SAA grounded some of its aircraft on 22 October 2019. Photo: Flickr/Klaus Brandmaier

Trade union on SAA job cuts: “We heard the news on the media”

The national airline is launching its restructuing program and as a result, as many as 1 000 jobs are on the line.


SAA grounded some of its aircraft on 22 October 2019. Photo: Flickr/Klaus Brandmaier

South African Airways (SAA) has announced plans to cut jobs as a means of finalising its restructural program. However, trade unions representing the airline’s workers claim they were never informed of such a development.

Why is SAA on the verge of retrenching staff?

For many years, since the advent of state capture, SAA has been grappling with massive financial losses, matched with the inability to function without the aid of the public purse.

Figures in the private sector may have called on the government to do the right thing and sell a sizeable stake of the national carrier to private ownership. Even Richard Branson admitted that he would consider the offer if it was made.

However, Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni and President Cyril Ramaphosa have remained adamant on the fact that SAA, as well as every other state parastatal in shambles, can be saved.

This is why the national carrier has been forced into a restructural program, much like what is going to happen at Eskom. The hope, for the airline, is to have a leaner workforce which may offer relief in terms of reduced salary payments and a more cohesive labour infrastructure.

According to SAA Acting CEO, Zuks Ramasia, the problem areas that need fixing include:

  • challenges in funding and liquidity;
  • inability to borrow indefinitely without repaying debt;
  • high interest costs on loans;
  • volatile and fluctuating fuel price;
  • currency volatility;
  • insufficient revenue and cash generation in relation to operating cost;
  • ageing fleet which is expensive to maintain and is fuel inefficient, making it difficult for SAA to compete in the market place; and
  • aggressive international and regional competition for revenue stimulation and network optimisation

How many workers will be affected by the restructuring?

At this stage, nobody — not even Ramasia — knows exactly how many workers are in line to lose their jobs.

“It is difficult to estimate the number of employees who may eventually be impacted. No final decision will be taken until the consultation process is concluded. However, it is estimated that approximately 944 employees may be affected,” she said.

Ramasia explained that the consultation process with all employees is in line with section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, which requires an employer to consult with recognised labour unions and keep abreast employees who may be affected by the restructuring process.

Which parts of SAA will be affected by job cuts?

Nothing has been set in stone as yet, Ramasia stressed. However, what is most likely, is that the restructuring process will affect jobs at all departments, excluding:

  • SAA Technical;
  • Mango Airlines; and
  • Air Chefs

Satawu: “We were never informed of this, we heard it in the media”

The South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) is the only trade union that has voiced its disbelief with the announcements made by Ramasia.

Satawu spokesperson, Zanele Sabela, claims that they were never informed of the decision arrived at by the national carrier.

“On Friday, they told us that the state of the company is not doing well but that, so much so, if we were to go on strike because of the wage negotiations, they would probably have to close down.

“Nothing in that meeting was mentioned about retrenchments. So, the first we heard of it was when we heard it in the media,” Sabela claimed.

Satawu has majority representation at SAA Technical, the department that is exempt from the looming job cuts. However, Sabela admitted that they do represent workers in the affected departments too.

At this time, SAA has not announced any information on when the job cuts will take effect, if, indeed, they will be taking place.