The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), which is one of the unions representing workers at embattled state-owned airline SA Express, has called on public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to intervene and make sure the airline is turned around.

“[His] silence is deafening, [the department was a respondent] ... but didn’t show up in court to support SA Express,” said Satawu spokesperson Zanele Sabela.

The company was placed in business rescue by South Gauteng High Court judge EF Dippenaar two weeks ago for failing to settle its debt of R11m to global logistics firm Ziegler. It is the second state-owned airline to be placed in business rescue.

A business rescue process is aimed at rehabilitating a financially distressed company by restructuring its affairs, including debt.

In September 2019, SA Express received a government bailout of R300m to ease its operational and financial challenges. In 2018, it was granted a R1.2bn guarantee, which the airline said was swallowed by historical debt.

On Friday, Sabela said the union was worried about the department of public enterprises’ “hands-off approach” on the airline’s business rescue process, saying, “Time is of the essence, they need to say something. They are the shareholder. They must get their act together.”

Business rescue practitioners Phahlani Mkhombo and Daniel Terblanche held their first meeting with creditors and affected stakeholders in Johannesburg on Thursday.

“[They] informed the gathering that although they had held several meetings with representatives of the DPE, they were yet to meet decisionmakers at the department,” Sabela said, adding that the practitioners told them that they have already indicated to the department that R350m “will be required to save the airline, but to date they have had no response”.

“As one of the unions representing employees of SA Express, [we] appeal to DPE to act now. Let the appropriately mandated officials meet the [practitioners] as a matter of urgency, [and] make the requisite funds (cash or guarantee) available as soon as possible so [the practitioners] can save the airline.”

Departmental spokesperson Richard Mantu could not be reached for comment. SA Express spokesperson Mpho Majatladi last week said the business rescue process was a well-coordinated process with no disruptions to customers and employees.