The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) embarked on a strike at SAA from 4 AM on Friday the 15th of November 2019. Picture: THE HERALD/ EUGENE COETZEE
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) embarked on a strike at SAA from 4 AM on Friday the 15th of November 2019. Picture: THE HERALD/ EUGENE COETZEE

The two largest unions at SAA said minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan’s attempt to attribute  SAA’s deepening financial crisis to their week-long strike is an opportunistic attempt to deflect attention from management and board failures.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) members at the airline went on an eight-day strike before accepting a 5.9% pay rise offered by the airline.

In an joint statement on Tuesday afternoon, the unions said this is an “opportunistic attempt” to deflect attention away from the  SAA board and senior management “creating this environment”.

The state-owned airline’s management was aware as early as June 2019 that there would not be enough money for operational costs from November, they said.

“In the same week that we announced our plans to embark on strike action, on Monday November 11 2019, the acting CFO Deon Fredericks again confirmed there was no money for salaries for the remainder of the year,” the unions said. 

“Therefore, it is absurd in the extreme to blame the cash crisis on the strike when both the board and executive management were aware of the situation six months ago, but chose to do nothing.”

On Sunday, the department of public enterprises said in a statement that SAA will go through a “radical restructuring process” to survive.

The airline’s board and executive committee have been locked in intense discussions with the department and the Treasury over the past week in an effort to secure a loan guarantee of at least R2bn for it to continue trading.

The statement said the strike by Numsa and Sacca over wages and proposed job cuts “caused immense damage to the reputation, operations, and the deterioration of the finances of SAA”.

The unions hit back on Tuesday, saying that it was Gordhan who made a statement that SAA was not too big to fail, “thus leaving global trade partners and creditors speculating about the future existence of SAA”.

SAA is insolvent with liabilities exceeding assets by about R15bn. It has received R5.5bn in bailouts from the Treasury in 2019, as well as an undertaking to repay R9.2bn in historic debt.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za