Disgruntled unions at SAA say backdated increases to pilots’ salaries have added about R100-million to the ailing national carrier’s R6.1-billion wage bill, while their demands were rejected and would have added just under R60-million.
Mashudu Raphetha, the president of the National Transport Movement (NTM), said SAA’s announcement on Monday afternoon that the airline will retrench staff would not deter them from going on strike.
Wage negotiations had not yielded results and “yesterday we informed them [SAA] of our intention to ballot members on a way forward because management was not responsive”, Raphetha said.
He added: “The pilots started receiving their backdated increases in October and there are only about 600 of them. We want them to just treat all employees equally.”
Aggrieved unions — which have been locked in discussions with the airline — expressed surprise on Tuesday morning saying SAA neither gave them prior notice nor consulted them about an intention to retrench.
The news broke on Monday afternoon when an email from acting chief executive Zuks Ramasia detailed how the airline intended to shed 944 jobs in a bid to survive.
Only 5 149 SAA workers — and not subsidiaries such as Air Chefs, SAA Technical, and Mango — are affected. The airline employs about 10 000 people in total.
Read the retrenchment notice below:
The South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) criticised the announcement, saying it was not true that Ramasia had started talks with employees in line with section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, which sets out the process to be followed when embarking on possible retrenchments.
“We can state categorically for the record that no such consultation process ever took place. We were informed through a media statement of their intentions. We have been engaging with SAA management on wage talks and the last meeting took place yesterday,” Numsa and Sacca said in a joint statement.
“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss wage increases. We have placed our demands on the table and SAA is unwilling to consider our demands because they claim they do not have money.”
Both unions received a certificate to go on strike last week after wage negotiations fell through.The strike was supposed to begin this week.
It would have been amplified by the NTM, which had informed SAA it would on Wednesday discuss with members what steps to take after the airline did not offer a salary increase.
The NTM is seeking a 5.9% increase, backdated to January, while Sacca and Numsa want an 8% increase.
All three unions say SAA’s refusal to negotiate with workers after it implemented a 5.9% increase for pilots is a slap in their face.
“Pilots at SAA recently received a 5.9% wage increase because of an agreement they have signed with SAA. But our demands for an increase for an 8% have been denied. This is why we are questioning the timing of this announcement [to retrench staff],” said Sacca and Numsa’s statement. “It is a veiled threat to get workers to drop their demands for wage increases and for the removal of the SAA board. They want to strike fear into the hearts of our members. We condemn the management with the contempt they deserve.”
Furthermore, just last week SAA’s management informed workers that its organisation redesign, which will inform restructuring, was still incomplete, the two unions said.
“So we are asking ourselves on what basis are they serving us with section 189 to restructure, when they have not completed the work to redesign the organisation? They cannot embark on section 189 without having first completed this process.”
The unions added: “Their intention is also to run away from holding senior executive management and board members to account for corruption and theft at the airline.”
Sacca and Numsa reiterated their call for the removal of SAA’s management team, saying it had failed to deal with corruption in its upper echelons,which has cost the airline millions.
“If SAA has no money it is because it was stolen or mismanaged by senior executive management, while the board looked on,” the unions said. “The board has consistently refused to implement the findings of the forensic reports and as a result they have cost SAA millions.”
In its communication with staff SAA noted several matters affecting its bottom line:
l Funding and liquidity problems;
l High interest costs on loans;
l A fluctuating fuel price, currency volatility and an ageing fleet;
l Insufficient cash generation to cover fixed costs; and
l Inefficient operations, structure and supply chain processes.
The airline also noted that its operations had been on a downward trend since April 2015, when it operated 4 535 flights, to 3 027 flights this April.
“The initial consultation meeting will be held on November 12 2019. Employees whose employment is terminated will be provided with notice pay in line with their contract of employment. Retrenchment for affected redundant employees is therefore likely to take place on the 31 March 2019 [sic],” the letter said.
Two aviation industry specialists criticised the way SAA announced its intentions to retrench people, saying announcing the number of staff to lose their jobs, instead of the money it needed to save indicated the announcement was not well thought out. “How will you negotiate with unions when you’ve already decided how many people you will retrench? How will you say its all in good faith?”