Retrenchments unavoidable to fix 'challenges currently facing SAA'

12 November 2019 - 17:49
By Naledi Shange
SAA says it has consulted employees regarding possible retrenchments but unions say no such consultation process has taken place. File photo.
Image: SAA SAA says it has consulted employees regarding possible retrenchments but unions say no such consultation process has taken place. File photo.

Embattled national carrier SAA on Monday refuted union claims that it had failed to properly notify its workers about possible retrenchments.

Addressing a media briefing, the company’s interim chief financial officer, Deon Fredricks, said: “Organised labour claim that SAA has not engaged in a consultative process. However, this is not correct and SAA management’s full intention is to respect and engage in a full consultative process. We recognise this is our duty as a responsible employer.”

Fredricks said in accordance with the law, a written notice was issued to all the recognised unions on  Monday November 11.

“This was done after an SAA-scheduled meeting with the unions on the same day. The recognised unions did not attend the meeting,” Fredricks said. “Our representative for labour relations called each of these recognised unions to inform them that the company had issued a section 189 notice.”

SAA has suggested the restructuring and retrenchments were unavoidable, adding that these were necessary to address “the serious challenges currently facing SAA” .

It is understood he national carrier plans to cut up to a fifth of its workforce, which could see well over 100 employees jobless.

On the wage negotiations, SAA said it had engaged extensively over the past year, saying there were at least nine meetings held through the course of the year.

Airchefs were reportedly scheduled to receive increments of 7%, the pilots 5.9%, and the cabin crew and customer service agents were not expected to receive increments at all.

Martin Kemp of SAA’s human resources department said the pilots had an agreement, signed in 2010, which guaranteed an increment based on calculations of a certain formula. He said the airline tried to negotiate its way around the pilots' increase. The matter made it to arbitration, with SAA losing in its bid.

Airchefs, Kemp said, were part of a different industry and were not included in the airline industry.

“There’s a catering bargaining council that regulates the wages for the catering industry,” he said.

The airline said it had done all it could to improve its financial woes.

Fredricks acknowledged this was a tough time for employees, but stressed  it wanted to transform into a financially sustainable airline which would also see it being a profitable organisation.

Following news of the retrenchments, workers have threatened to down tools.

Fredricks said this was a cause for concern.  

“Let me state clearly, any interruption to our operation endangers the future of our airline and our ability to deliver our strategy, and threatens not one job but every job in SAA and the related industries,” he said.