Johannasburg - The SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) has welcomed a decision by the SA Airways board to place its chief executive Vuyisile Kona on precautionary suspension.

“The acting CEO has a dark cloud hovering above his integrity, honesty, managerial competencies, and all other noble aspects one expects out of a CEO for a state-owned... company,” Satawu said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As Satawu, we have exhausted all avenues in an attempt to co-operate with Mr Kona as organised labour at the airline, and all our attempts came to naught.”

SAA said on Monday evening Kona had been placed on precautionary suspension with immediate effect.

It said this was based on allegations that had come to the board's attention, and it had a fiduciary duty to investigate.

The board had asked Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout to oversee the group's operations in the meantime.

Over the years, SAA has had to ask for several bailouts from government because of its precarious finances.

In January this year, it received a R550 million bank “facility” to cover fuel and other short-term commitments, the Sunday Times reported.

A number of SAA board members, including chairwoman Cheryl Carolus, unexpectedly quit last year before the annual general meeting in October, when their term was due to end.

At the national carrier's AGM, it reported a R1.3 billion operating loss for the year. The airline's losses over the past decade amounted to R14.7 billion.

In early October, the National Treasury announced SAA had been given a R5 billion government guarantee to recapitalise. This would enable it to borrow from financial markets and buy new aircraft.

Satawu said Kona had neglected his managerial role.

He had isolated SAA shareholders during important governance matters that needed oversight, created labour unrest, sidelined senior managers, appointed family and friends, and tolerated ill-discipline from employees who pretended to be shop stewards, the union said.

“(He created) countless labour unrests within the airline by flouting procedures that ended up confusing and inciting workers, as well as bogus recognition of a certain desperate NGO called NTM (National Transport Movement) as a union.”

In January, members of the NTM went on strike, accusing airline management of refusing to recognise their union. NTM claimed that SAA refused to recognise it even though it had 1300 members.

Satawu said the process of appointing a permanent SAA CEO had to be sped up to ensure there was no leadership vacuum.

“We expect the board to appoint a person of unquestionable integrity and clean record on corporate governance, with sound managerial and financial skills, so as to lead an efficient turn-around strategy that would put SAA back to (a) profitable and competitive entity, so that the citizens do not continue to bail it out yearly,” it said. - Sapa