Audit SAA business rescuers — unions

An SAA plane is towed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in January
ON THE ROPES: An SAA plane is towed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in January

The three largest unions at SAA have called on the national carrier’s business rescue practitioners to accept their offer of salary cuts — with the highest being up to 49% — to stave off the winding down of the airline.

This is according to a joint statement released by Numsa, the SAA Pilots’ Association and South African Cabin Crew Association.

“The global aviation industry is under immense and unprecedented pressure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In an effort to ensure their airlines’ survival, many airline executives around the world have reduced their own pay — some by up to 100%,” the statement said.

However, the unions said SAA’s executives and senior management have not offered to cut their salaries at all.

“This is unconscionable. If we are to get SAA off the ground once again, all of us at SAA need to pull together and make the necessary sacrifices.”

The unions said the offer had been made to the business rescue practitioners, Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson, who were appointed in December, but this was later rejected.

“This pay cut to the tune of R82m was designed to buy enough time to restructure, right-size and reform SAA,” the statement said.

It said pilots’ association members were willing to take the highest pay cut, while Numsa and cabin crew association members would accept smaller cuts.

“We are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to do so,” the statement said.

“However, it appears as if no sacrifice will be enough to satisfy those who are intent on destroying SAA for whatever sinister reasons.” 

A spokesperson for the business rescue practitioners, Louise Brugman, said a statement would be issued in response to the unions’ allegations later on Monday.

SAA has been in business rescue since December 5 and though the Companies Act states that a business rescue plan should be finalised within 30 days, the practitioners been granted several extensions by creditors.

But in April, after being told by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan that there would be no further funding to recapitalise a restructured SAA, Matuson and Dongwana said they had no option but to liquidate or wind down the company.

A winding down entails the disposal of assets as businesses where possible, and the payment of liabilities with the proceeds.

The unions’ leadership also called for:

  • A forensic audit and Public Finance Management Act investigation of all expenditure since the appointment of the business rescue practitioners;
  • The immediate cessation of the practitioners’ legal challenges and minimisation of consulting and legal fees; and
  • If they are not willing to categorically support the vision of a new national airline, the resignation of the practitioners and withdrawal of their legal advisers.

“We are sensitive to the pressure on the public purse, especially during this time of Covid-19.

“Our plan is therefore prudent and designed to make SAA commercially viable and financially self-sufficient,” the unions said in their statement.

“It is self-evident that they never intended to rescue SAA and, as such, six months later, there is no business rescue plan.

“Instead, they unfairly attempted to dismiss all employees and wind down SAA, which amounts to no more than asset stripping.

“As a result of the [practitioners’] rejection of the sacrifices labour are prepared to make, employees are now under threat of not receiving salaries at all.”

The statement said the practitioners,  along with consultants and advisers, had been paid about R200m since their appointment.

“In the last couple of days, the [practitioners] reportedly proceeded to further deplete SAA’s cash reserves by withdrawing another R2.5m each as fees to themselves.”