SAA staff at PE Airport fear for their jobs

SAA flights to Port Elizabeth will be scrapped from the end of the month, but the airline’s staff in Port Elizabeth say they are still in the dark about possible job cuts
SAA flights to Port Elizabeth will be scrapped from the end of the month, but the airline’s staff in Port Elizabeth say they are still in the dark about possible job cuts

About 50 SAA workers at the Port Elizabeth Airport fear they may not have jobs at the end of the month as uncertainty over the future of the national carrier continues. 

Though the business rescue practitioners for SAA have announced the scrapping of domestic flights to Port Elizabeth, Durban and East London from the end of the month, employees in Nelson Mandela Bay say they have yet to be informed about the way forward.

This has prompted the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the SA Cabin Crew Association, both representing SAA workers, to approach the Johannesburg Labour Court for an urgent application to stop any retrenchments which may be on the cards until the Labour Relations Act has been complied with.

Numsa and Sacca said the application was expected to be heard tomorrow.

They gave business rescue practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana until today to say whether they would oppose the application.

The unions said the two were unable to provide any rational basis for the cancellation of routes, which  would have a devastating effect on SAA employees and their families.

The government has objected to the planned cancellation of the routes.

The public enterprises department signalled on Friday that it might try to force the business rescue practitioners to reverse the decision, saying that the move would cause market and customer uncertainty which might jeopardise the long-term future of the airline.

Numsa shop steward Luyanda Lelu, who is based at the Port Elizabeth Airport, said nothing had been communicated to them following the statement from the airline.

“When the announcement was made, it came as a shock to all of us because we were still negotiating with [the business rescue practitioners],” he  said.

Lelu said the workers were under the impression that they would be unemployed from March 1.

“The statement said operations would cease from February 29, meaning that from the following day we’ll be unemployed because we haven’t been issued with a letter telling us to report to work.

“It’s an awful feeling not knowing what is happening,” he said.

“Hopefully the court will sit [tomorrow] and we’ll finally have a way forward.”

The jobs that are affected include cabin crew, ticket sales, boarding, counters, lost property, lounge workers and ground operations.

Numsa and Sacca said  yesterday they wanted the court to direct the business rescue practitioners to comply with an agreement signed with the labour unions in November stipulating that workers facing retrenchment be placed on the training layoff scheme.

“The training layoff scheme is a viable cost-saving measure which we negotiated to help SAA with its financial crisis,” the unions said in a statement.

“Workers facing retrenchments are placed on training for a minimum period of six months to a year and 75% of their salaries are paid for by the SETAs [skills education training authorities].

“The [business rescue practitioners] together with the SAA management have deliberately ignored this option, and instead, are pushing for mass retrenchments through the cancellation of routes.”

SAA operates about 15 flights into and out of Port Elizabeth every day.

Other routes cancelled include regional and international services from Johannesburg to Abidjan via Accra, Entebbe, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Livingstone, Luanda, Munich, Ndola, and Sao Paulo from February 29.

Regional services to be retained include from Johannesburg to Blantyre, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Kinshasa, Lagos, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Maputo, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.

The statement said SAA had no plans to make further significant changes to its network.

Numsa and Sacca vehemently disagreed with the decision to “kill” SAA by disproportionately reducing routes.

“SAA is collapsing because it spends R25bn [a year] supporting bloated, evergreen, corrupt contracts,” they said.

“To date, both the board and SAA executive management have failed to intervene directly in these contracts.

“The [business rescue practitioners] have the power to cancel or renegotiate these contracts to bring immediate cost savings for the airline, and that intervention can make much more of an impact than dismissing thousands of workers through the unnecessary cancellation of routes.”

Over the weekend, ANC chair and energy and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe called for the beleaguered carrier to be shut down if it could no longer sustain itself.

The unions expressed concern at Mantashe’s statement, saying that while his frustrations were justified, he should also be aware it was the ANC and the government that appointed ministers, boards and executives to SAA, all of whom had brought the airline to its current state.

“It is worrying that Mantashe seems unconcerned about the rampant corruption at SAA which continues through these bloated contracts, and has adopted the attitude of the corrupt board and SAA executive committee, whose goal is to sell the airline as quickly as possible to cover up for looting and corruption at the airline.

“We call on everybody including minister Mantashe to pull together and get SAA out of the current crisis,” the unions said.

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