Audrey D’Angelo and Londiwe Buthelezi
The Operations of SAA had not been affected by the strike by members of the National Transport Movement (NTM), a new trade union, airline spokesman Tlali Tlali said yesterday.
Ephraim Mphahlele, the president of the NTM, said SAA had been particularly hard hit by the strike, which had disrupted flights. The Passenger Rail Agency of SA had been less affected so far.
The fears that the NTM’s strike might interrupt flight schedules and cause havoc for soccer fans arriving at the last minute for the opening of the Africa Cup of Nations were alleviated when Airports Company South Africa’s live flight information showed that flights continued to take off and land on schedule on Friday.
Tlali said about 40 people had turned out on Friday to protest outside SAA’s head office at OR Tambo International Airport. This was out of 11 000 staff employed by SAA. No flights had been affected.
But the union’s general secretary, Craig Nte, cited delays because of the rain and after midday he reported that 95 percent of the union’s members in Johannesburg had made their way to the airport.
SAA was still not budging from its decision to not recognise the union even though the core reason for the strike was the refusal by the board to grant the union recognition and allow it to participate in wage negotiations.
Tlali said the decision not to grant recognition to the union was because its membership included worker categories that were not provided for in the bargaining forum constitution such as managers and contract employees.
He said other unions that had not met a threshold of 30 percent or 1 220 permanent non-managerial staff had been denied recognition.
Nte said the union’s members “will continue with the strike until SAA leadership calls us to the boardroom”.
He said if the strike needed to go on for weeks, they would let it, even though they were worried about the impact it could have given that SAA was dealing with several crises.
“The management and the board should take full responsibility if this [strike] translates into any financial loss for the company. They should take responsibility because they are the ones who are not speaking in one voice in this matter.”
He said the union was concerned about the divisions that existed in the company’s leadership. He said the fact that the human resource general manager, who gave authority to the board to overturn the acting chief executive’s decision regarding the union’s recognition, had a broader scope than the chief executive could be viewed in the sense that the chief executive was “a puppet”.
Discord in the leadership of the SAA was evident when Vuyisile Kona, a former SAA executive who is now the acting chief executive, agreed to recognise NTM only to have his decision overturned by the board headed by Lindi Nkosi-Thomas at the time.
The NTM claimed that workers were called from other airports to assist where there were staff shortages, as picketing only took place in Johannesburg. It said its members from all other airports would be on stayaway today.
Tlali said that claims by the NTM that flights had been delayed or cancelled were “simply misleading”.
Chris Zwiegenthal, the chief executive of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, said this was an issue that the two parties needed to resolve.
“The union and SAA would have to reach an agreement but I certainly don’t see wider implications than what happened [on Friday],” he said.
SAA said it remained hopeful that the parties would find a resolution to their dispute sooner rather than later.
Tlali said that as of Monday, January 14, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union had 1 600 members falling within the bargaining forum while trade union Uasa had 1 266 members.
The NTM said its membership had increased to more than 1 400 by Friday. page 15