The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has welcomed a decision by the SAA board to place 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 on Tuesday.

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

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

This was based on allegations that had come to the board’s attention, which it had a duty to investigate.

The board had asked Mango chief executive, Nico Bezuidenhout, to oversee the group’s operations in the interim.

Over the years, SAA has had to ask for several bailouts from the government.

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

Several 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 AGM, the airline reported a R1.3 billion operating loss for the year. SAA’s losses over the past decade amounted to R14.7bn.

In early October, the National Treasury said SAA had been given a R5bn 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 in 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.”

Last month, NTM members went on strike, accusing airline management of refusing to recognise the union, although it had 1 300 members.

Satawu said the process of appointing a permanent SAA chief executive 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 turnaround strategy that would put SAA back to a profitable and competitive entity, so the citizens do not continue to bail it out yearly,” it said. – Sapa