Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JACQUES STANDER
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/JACQUES STANDER

SAA’s joint business rescue practitioners (BRPs) have sent a lockout notice to the airline’s pilots warning they will be excluded from the workplace from Friday until they agree to the terms of a proposed agreement aimed at bringing the cash-strapped national carrier back to profitability.

The SA Airways Pilots Association (Saapa), which represents all 383 affected pilots, has accused the practitioners, Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson, of being on a power trip, saying they are consulting their lawyers on the matter.

SAA is among the state-owned enterprises that have collapsed under the weight of corruption and malfeasance linked to state capture during former president Jacob Zuma’s term in office.

The unprofitable airline has been in business rescue since December 2019 and relies on government bailouts to stay afloat. It was recently allocated R10.5bn in state funding to implement its business rescue plan.

On Wednesday, the practitioners said pilots who are Saapa members will be excluded from the workplace until the association accepts their demands.

These include the termination of the “regulating agreement” between SAA and Saapa, an evergreen collective agreement regulating the terms and condition of employment of pilots.

The practitioners have argued that the agreement is unconstitutional as it allegedly breaches labour legislation, the constitution and “impedes SAA achieving meaningful and expeditious transformation”.

They want Saapa to accept a new, three-year collective agreement that entails reducing all pilots’ salaries by 50%, saying this will be more in line with the SA market. An average pilot salary is R2.9m, rising to as much as R4.6m for senior captains.

The practitioners said Saapa should accept new salary scales for captains and first officers.

The proposed new agreement slashes the previous 40 days leave to 32 days, and cuts the daily allocation from up to $155 (almost R2,300) a day depending on the destination to $70 (R1,038) a day regardless of the destination.

“We have spent a lot of our time negotiating compromises with all of the relevant stakeholders of the airline. The proposed new terms and conditions are fair and competitive for a regional, African airline,” the practitioners said.

“In fact, SAA has among the highest cost base in terms of pilots salaries, meal allowances, leave and sick pay and travel rebate benefits internationally. This cannot continue if the business rescue of SAA is to succeed.”

The practitioners hope pilots appreciate that a compromise is required from all to create a chance for SAA to fly again, and that they will “strongly consider accepting the terms of the lockout”.

“We are extremely disappointed that things have got to this point because we have been negotiating in good faith,” Saapa chair Grant Back said on Wednesday.

“We feel we haven’t reached a deadlock.”

He said the lockout notice came as they were about to send a counterproposal to the practitioners.

“This is purely a power play by the BRPs. We have not received salaries for eight months. What they are doing is absolutely despicable,” said Back.

“We are taking advice from our attorneys and will be responding in due course.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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