FILE PHOTO: A South African Airways (SAA) plane is towed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg
FILE PHOTO: A South African Airways (SAA) plane is towed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg

Unions slam public enterprises over exit from SAA forum

By African News Agency Time of article published Jun 29, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) have slammed the decision by the department of public enterprises to abandon the leadership consultative forum (LCF) set up to deliberate on troubled national carrier, SAA.

In a statement on Sunday, the unions said the move bore out their contention that the department, led by minister Pravin Gordhan "has been manipulative and dishonest in its engagement".

The government placed SAA - which last turned a profit about a decade ago and has lost an estimated R28 billion (about US$1.6 billion) over the past 14 years - under business rescue last December

A vote scheduled for last Thursday on a business rescue plan for the ailing airline was postponed to July 14 at the behest of the majority of participants, including Numsa.

On Sunday the department of public enterprises (DPE) said it had withdrawn its participation from the LCF, a mechanism formed to facilitate the development of a business and operating model for a new and restructured SAA, saying the forum was not serving its intended purpose.

"On several occasions some participants of the LCF have wilfully breached the conditions of the leadership compact by leaking confidential information, issuing public statements that attack the DPE and political attacks on the DPE leadership," it said.

The department said it was disappointed that - despite the significant adverse consequences of a liquidation for employees and creditors at SAA -NUMSA, SACCA, the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA) and creditor SA Airlink had moved a resolution to push back last Thursday's vote.

"In supporting SA Airlink to postpone the creditors vote, NUMSA, SACCA and SAAPA have effectively aligned themselves with a competitor who stands to benefit substantially should SAA be liquidated. This is an anti-worker stance," the DPE said.

In a heated response, NUMSA and SACCA said the department was pretending to be serious about building a new airline with a turnaround strategy "when in reality they are actually destroying the airline".

"If anything, what will be left of SAA will not be a vibrant and successful airline but a shadow of the airline as we know it," the unions said.

They said one of their major bones of contention with the department was the unions' insistence that a turnaround plan for SAA must see the airline resume operations and take to the skies alongside its competitors in July.

They accused the DPE and Gordhan of refusing to commit to the proposal "based on all sorts of flimsy excuses".

The department last week, in a letter to unions, pleaded with them to understand and accept the need for the majority of staff at the airline to accept voluntary severance packages.

"We have given a great deal of thought to the VSP’s and wish to emphasise that the restructured SAA cannot be competitive if it is required to bear the cost of carrying 3,620 employees," the letter stated.

Nor, acting director general Kgathatso Thlakudi said, was temporary layoff workable when only one thousand employees are required for the start-up of operations. 

Instead, he said, there is a commitment that the 3,620 employees that take up the VSP’s will be entitled to re-apply for positions in the company as it grows. 

"SAA is not in a position to offer any additional benefits," he stressed.

The unions said they might not have an option but to appeal to parliament's standing committee on public accounts and the ruling African National Congress party to intervene in the stand-off.

"We remain firm in our search for a solution that will save our nation's airline and ensure a restructured viable restructured airline," the unions said.

"It is our take that there is no need to personalise issues; if Minister Gordhan is ready to genuinely engage with us as unions, with an intention to find permanent solutions, we are prepared to meet with him."

African News Agency

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