Johannesburg - A total of 523 Denel workers are to be laid off, a claim the company denies, trade union Solidarity said on Monday.
Solidarity spokesperson Jack Loggenberg said it had received verbal confirmation that the 523 aircraft specialists at Denel Aviation are to be retrenched due to the cancellation of a contract by the SA Air Force.
Denel spokesperson Sinah Phochana said the fate of the 523 workers was part of current negotiations between the company and SA National Defence Force (SANDF), but no decision had yet been taken.
"It is a matter between Denel and SANDF. As soon as we finalise we'll be able to give you an update."
She could not confirm when the negotiations would end.
However, Solidarity said it expected to receive written notice on the possible retrenchments on Tuesday, with first consultations taking place on January 14.
"These employees are stationed at various squadrons all over the country. They will probably not only lose their jobs, but also their air force housing within a matter of months," Loggenberg said.
"There is also a dark cloud over 523 families' Christmas holidays."
Loggenberg said there had not been notice from the military about the air force taking over the contracts of the aircraft specialists.
He said that if this did happen, the union would seek to keep the specialists' conditions of employment and salaries at the same level.
"We are concerned that the air force, to cut on expenses, will wait until all the employees have been retrenched before appointing some of them on a lower salary to do the same work," Loggenberg said.
He added the union was worried about whether the air force would pay for severance packages, as the current contract stipulates.
"However, there is uncertainty over whether or not the air force will be responsible for paying out severance packages after the contract has expired," Loggenberg said.
He added that if Denel were forced to pay the severance packages, then more retrenchments might follow.
Loggenberg said the department of defence gave notice on June 20, 2011 that it was going to cancel the aircraft maintenance contract.
He said meetings were held to renegotiate or review the contract, but to no avail, as the air force announced in November that it would not sign a new contract with Denel after March 31.