Picture: SAA
Picture: SAA

Trade unions are up in arms about SAA’s decision to cancel 11 routes and restructure others, saying they were not consulted.

The SAA Pilots Association (Saapa) said it was “blindsided” by the announcement, while the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) said SAA’s business rescue practitioners had acted in flagrant disregard of the provisions of the Labour Relations Act.

SAA business rescue practitioners announced on Thursday that the airline would cancel all domestic flights, except for a reduced service to Cape Town, as well as some international and regional flights, at the end of February in a bid to further cut costs.

Saapa chair Grant Back said labour was not consulted or informed about the changes before SAA made the announcement.

“The Pilots Association is extremely disappointed that labour are not considered a key stakeholder in the business rescue process,” Back said.

“The pilots remain committed to achieving a successful restructuring of SAA but are unable to contribute if we are not properly consulted and engaged during this process.”

Numsa and Sacca said the business rescue practitioners were unable to provide any rational basis for the cancellation of routes, and that the decision would have a devastating effect on workers and their families.

“Not only have the BRP [business rescue practitioners] failed to comply with the provisions of the Labour Relations Act in respect of meaningful joint consensus-seeking consultations during which the rationale of their decision could be interrogated and alternatives proposed, but the BRP also failed to date in their core statutory responsibility to produce a business rescue plan and to take positive and decisive steps towards saving SAA in the most optimum manner possible for the benefit of all stakeholders,” the two unions said in a joint statement.

Numsa and Sacca said they had instructed their attorneys to explore legal avenues available to them and would communicate their next course of action in due course.

On February 29, SAA will close services from Johannesburg to Abidjan via Accra, Entebbe, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Luanda, Munich, Ndola, and São Paulo, the business rescue practitioners said.

On the domestic route network, it will cancel flights to Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth. Domestic routes operated by Mango will not be affected by the changes.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala has called for an urgent meeting between the provincial government and SAA over the announcement that the Durban route had been cut.

The province was concerned about the economic effect this decision could have on the provincial economy and jobs.

“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,” Zikalala said.

He said Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has repeatedly been named SA’s fastest-growing airport.

“The decision to terminate this vital route — without any consultation with the KZN provincial government — amounts to economic sabotage of our province by our national carrier.

“We are working round the clock to put KZN on the regional economic map and we need SAA to be on the same page,” said Zikalala.

The KwaZulu-Natal government said it was pursuing a multipronged investment strategy to ensure the province became SA’s place to do business and for this strategy to succeed, the existing airline routes connecting Durban to other cities in the country and the region had to be expanded, not curtailed.

Unions embarked on a eight day strike in November over wages.

No numbers were put on the table before the strike and the company being placed in business rescue, but management had indicated that 944 jobs out of the airline’s total complement of just more than 5,000 would need to be cut.

In December, SAA went into business rescue after several years of heavy losses that necessitated perpetual bailouts from the state. It recently received a R3.5bn loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, which enabled it to continue flying, while business rescue practitioners prepare to restructure the company into what is hoped will be a sustainable business.

Joint SAA business rescue practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana said routes that would drive the restructured national carrier towards profitability had been retained.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za