Former SAA group chief executive Vuyani Jarana. File photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - South African Airways (SAA) said that it was engaging with workers unions over their demands, but said that some of the union's grievances should be addressed by government. 

On Friday, workers' unions said the state-owned airline had requested one week to deal with their demands of reinstating Vuyani Jarana as group chief executive and a complete overhaul of the board.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) had on Thursday met the SAA board over the workers' grievances following Jarana's resignation two weeks ago. 

The union's key demand is that Jarana must be reinstated immediately for having produced a turnaround strategy which won the support of government, the board and the unions. 

SAA's cabin crew members are represented in SACCA while NUMSA members work at SAA Technical and at the country's airports.

In email correspondence with ANA over the weekend, SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali confirmed that the airline was in receipt of the memorandum received from two unions.

Tlali said they have noted that the unions have allowed SAA seven days within which to respond to the matters they raised in their memoranda. 

"Some of these matters fall within the purview of the shareholder while others should be addressed by the board and the executive management," Tlali said.

"We have already initiated some engagements with the unions on these matters and held a meeting with the employee unions on Thursday."

Tlali said it would be improper and amount to undermining an arranged process with the unions if SAA were to comment in the media on the substantive matters or demands raised by the unions. 

"Fairness dictate that we respond to the unions first and directly so before they could read about our responses in the media," he said.

On Friday last week, SAA announced long-standing executive Zuks Ramasia as the interim group chief executive and Adam Vos as the new CEO of SAA Technical. 

Ramasia, who was previously general manager for operations at SAA, began her term as CEO on Monday.

Members of the unions picketed and protested at all the country's major airports to protest against what they called a "myriad of issues" at SAA and SAA Technical. 

They initially gave the SAA board 48 hours to rescind their decision to accept Jarana's resignation and reinstate him with immediate effect. SAA was not immediately available for comment.

But the City Press newspaper on Sunday quoted spokesperson for the department of public enterprises, Adrian Lackay, saying there was no chance Jarana was coming back to head SAA. 

"The former SAA CEO resigned of his own accord. He will not be reinstated. The manner in which he resigned, despite the board’s requests to conduct himself in a responsible manner with regards to his resignation, exposed the airline to considerable risk among lenders and suppliers,” Lackay told the newspaper.  

African News Agency (ANA)