By Thina Katangana
In a stinging letter written by NAPA – the Pilots Union of Air Namibia, Chairperson Dee Sauls is reminded that she is responsible for the affairs of the beleaguered airline as Chairperson, and that she is not the shareholder. The Chairman of the Namibia Airline Pilots Association demands feedback in regards to the arrears of their pension and medical aid fund which on 14 August stood at five months of no payment.
In July 2019, the Minister of Works and Transport, John Mutorwa is informed that NAPA “members are deeply concerned about any amounts indicated above which remain outstanding and unpaid.”
In two separate letters, one written on 8 July 2019 and another on 22 July 2019, deep concern is expressed due to the fact that Air Namibia has neglected to transfer the monthly pension- and medical aid fund deductions to Alexander Forbes. NAPA is very vocal in reminding Air Namibia that they did not sanction their employer to utilize statutory deductions to fund the flailing airline’s operations. In their correspondence, NAPA is very clear that the very act of withdrawing deductions and utilizing it for any other purpose than paying the funds to their insurers is unlawful and fraudulent.
In terms of international law, there is a requirement that pilots operating across international borders must be adequately insured. NAPA informs Sauls that “we will not participate in any illegal activities”, referring to the fact that “some crew members are not covered by medical insurance at all”.
Air Namibia has been accused of the misappropriation of funds and face being dragged before the courts. Air Namibia is also said to have not paid its workers’ PAYE to the Receiver of revenue and NAPA demands disclosure of the outstanding amount. Reminding Mutorwa of his “ultimate responsibility for Air Namibia (Pty) Ltd.,” the association’s lawyers detail the categories for which exact amounts are still being sought.
In the last few weeks, the parties continued to trade letters, seemingly without any resolution deemed satisfactory by NAPA.
NAPA followed up their letter of the 14th with another drafted on the 15th of August, addressed to Mr. Xavier Masule, Acting Managing Director and Accountable Manger, Head of Finance, Head of Legal services and Chairperson of the Board of Directors.
“Please furnish the author of this letter with the following information and reconciliation before 16h00 today (15 August 2019): This inquiry is only applicable to NAPA members, of whom we enclose a comprehensive members’ list for ease of reference: 1. Balance owing (if any) to Alexander Forbes in lieu of pension fund premiums at this date.
2. Balance owing to all medical aid funds (if any) of the abovementioned members at this date.
3. Balance owing (if any) to The Receiver of Revenue in lieu of PAYE deductions made from members’ salaries and not paid over (if any) at this date,” that letter reads.
NAPA in the same letter emphasises that it did not ‘mandate anyone at Air Namibia to deduct any funds from members’ salaries that was intended for pension funds, medical aid or PAYE, and / or to utilise those funds for any other purpose whatsoever.’
When still no response was forthcoming, NAPA stepped up its efforts and instructed Phillip Ellis of Ellis and Partners to pen a letter on their behalf.
That letter, dated 21 August 2019 reiterates the demand of NAPA stating, “We believe that our clients are rightfully aggrieved at the manner in which they are treated by their employer, for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that their employer is clearly insolvent.”
Xaxier Masule, Interim CEO of Air Namibia wrote a reply on 3 September “we wish to advise that the arrears balance owing to the medical aid fund in respect of all our employees stands at N$6 million as at 31 August 2019, reduced from N$15 million at end of July 2019. This is communicated to demonstrate over (our) commitment to rectify the situation.”
Furthermore The Patriot has learned that Bidvest Premium Lounges have terminated its agreement with Air Namibia for non payment. Frequent Flyers members of Air Namibia were entitled to utilise 11 of the Bidvest Premium Lounges in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town International airports.
It was one of the perks promised to Reward$ members – utilization of these prestigious business class lounges when traveling on Air Namibia. Since being evicted from this service due to non payment, loyalty card holders had to pay cash for a service that was included in their perks.
A source in the industry advises that these passengers can rightfully feel defrauded as they had supported Air Namibia to earn perks which is now being dishonoured due to Air Namibia not paying the service provider. The source is of the opinion that all loyalty card holding passengers denied this service has a claim against Air Namibia for every admission denied. At the time of going to press, The Patriot was unable to verify whether the outstanding payments have been made to Bidvest Premium Lounges, Alexander Forbes, the Receiver of revenue or medical aid insurers of Air Namibia staff.