The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has expressed its disquiet over the alleged impending job cuts at SA Express, saying labour was not consulted.

Reports emerged last week that the loss making state-owned airline was planning to downsize its staff.

The airline, whose new board was appointed in 2018, has struggled operationally for several years. It is heavily reliant on government support to stay afloat. The auditor-general previously expressed doubt that the airline can continue operating as a going concern.

Citing a City Press report, Satawu said the airline’s board had approved a plan by acting CEO Siza Mzimela to cut jobs. Mzimela is said to have made a presentation to a board committee arguing that the ratio of 822 employees to 10 aircraft is an indication the airline is overstaffed, the union said.

It is not yet clear how many jobs are at stake.

“As a union representing workers at the airline, Satawu is disappointed we had to read about the plan to cut jobs in the media. When we met Mzimela and another member of the task team charged with reviving the airline after it was grounded last May, we were assured retrenchment was not on the cards and we would be advised [should] the situation change,” Satawu said.

“News of the grounding of SA Express’s 22 aircraft was well publicised. Mzimela reportedly told the board committee the airline would be operating 15 aircraft by end April; that raises the question — what has happened to the other seven aircraft? By targeting workers instead of ensuring the remaining seven aircraft are compliant with SA Civil Aviation Authority safety standards, Mzimela is picking low-hanging fruit. This tends to happen with managers who lack ideas and are overwhelmed by the task at hand,” the union said.

It added that deciding to downsize the staff compliment without consulting social partners to explore alternatives is an indictment on management.

“It demonstrates a lack of understanding of the importance of strategic social partners. Satawu will request a meeting with SA Express to discuss this latest development. As far as retrenchment is concerned, we will address it as a labour relations matter because that is precisely what it is.”

On Friday, SA Express acting GM for human capital, Thuli Mpshe, did not rule out job cuts as the airline continues to “rigorously and continually look at all systems and operations to ensure long-term commercial sustainability.

“With the airline targeting to have a maximum of 15 aircraft in service by the end of June 2019, as it escalates its new strategy to achieve commercial sustainability, this factually means that as of now our staffing levels are not in line with our operations.

“SA Express commits to follow the prescripts of LRA [Labour Relations Act] to the letter, including consultation with all key stakeholders.”