SAA suspends all regional and international flights due to coronavirus

SAA resumes flights to Mauritius next month. Image via: flickr (Paul Scott)

Unions on SAA retrenchments: ‘Inexplicable and of immense concern’

The airline confirmed that 11 routes will be cancelled, casting a shadow of doubt over the future of thousands of employees.

SAA suspends all regional and international flights due to coronavirus

SAA resumes flights to Mauritius next month. Image via: flickr (Paul Scott)

While South African Airways’ (SAA) business rescue practitioners (BRPs) say that retrenchments at the embattled airline were “inevitable”, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) have condemned the announcement as “provocation”. 

SAA announced that it would be forced to let staff go after they made the decision to cut 11 flight routes. 

Numsa and Sacca categorically rejected the move in a joint statement. 

“No consultation whatsoever has taken place with labour as required by law and the BRP has acted in flagrant disregard of the provisions of the Labour Relations Act,” they said. 

Business rescue practitioners ‘ignoring solutions’ 

The unions said that BRPs have only continued the shoddy planning previously implemented by SAA management. 

“Of immense concern is that the BRPs were unable to provide any rational basis for the cancelation of routes and in fact confirmed that this was a plan which was previously devised by SAA management – the very same management which is responsible for the demise of SAA and who turned a blind eye to rampant looting and corruption at the airline.”

Numsa and Sacca joint statement

The unions said that the airline’s management has ignored protocol and set up a loophole to ensure that they won’t have to fork out millions in retrenchment packages.  

“Inexplicable and of immense concern is that the BRPs, through SAA management, reneged on the terms of a collective agreement concluded with Numsa and Sacca in 2019 in relation to the government-sponsored Training Lay-off Scheme instead of retrenchments,” they said. 

“If implemented, the scheme allows SAA to take workers on training and 75% of their salaries will be paid for by the SETAs or a minimum of six months, while they are training.”

This would mean that the airline itself is not liable for the cost of retrenchments. 

On Thursday, SAA said that they could not afford the cost of the consultation period prescribed by the Labour Relations Act. 

UIF to be used to pay retrenched staff

BRPs confirmed on Wednesday that they would be exploring the option of siphoning funds from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) in order to pay laid-off workers.   

DA MP Alf Lees said that the UIF should play no part in SAA’s shithousery. 

“There can be absolutely no special deal between the bankrupt SAA and the UIF in order for the national carrier to get access to the UIF’s coffers. These funds are held by the UIF on behalf of the hardworking employees and employers of South Africa, who have diligently put these monies aside,”

DA MP Alf Lees

“If there is a surplus in the UIF, it must be returned to its owners — the employees and employers who contribute to the fund. It cannot be used to bail out a bankrupt SAA and subsidise the maladministration and looting that has taken place,” he said.

Cut routes stifling economic growth in affected metros  

With 11 destinations cut from the SAA roster, Port Elizabeth, Durban and East London would be closed down and employees retrenched. This has led KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala to demand urgent meetings with SAA management.

“The province is concerned about the economic pain and suffering this decision may cause on the provincial economy and jobs.”

Sihle Zikalala

“While we understand SAA is facing financial difficulties and is in business rescue, which implies that it needs to streamline some of its operations, we feel they are making cuts in the wrong places. Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has repeatedly been named South Africa’s fastest growing airport, for example,” he said.

“The decision to terminate this vital route — without any consultation with the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government — amounts to economic sabotage of our province by our national carrier. We are working round the clock to put KwaZulu-Natal on the regional economic map and we need SAA to be on the same page,” said Zikalala.