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Striking SAA pilots want urgent interdict to have replacement labour deemed unlawful

14 April 2021 - 20:27 By orrin singh
The SAA Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) will on Thursday seek an urgent interdict to have the airline’s use of replacement labour during the pilots' ongoing dispute with the carrier declared illegal.
The SAA Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) will on Thursday seek an urgent interdict to have the airline’s use of replacement labour during the pilots' ongoing dispute with the carrier declared illegal.
Image: Business Day

The ongoing battle between the SAA Pilots' Association (SAAPA) and government remains up in the air, as the pilots will on Thursday apply for an urgent interdict to have the airline’s use of replacement labour during their ongoing dispute with the carrier declared illegal.

SAAPA said in a statement on Wednesday evening that it would further argue that the current lockout should be declared unlawful.

Association chair and captain Grant Back said should the lockout be declared as such, it would immediately stop the retaliatory strike.

“Members of the association are on strike having initially been locked out by SAA. SAAPA has agreed to cancel their existing regulating agreement (RA) the day after their members are retrenched, but it will also argue that SAA cannot, while the current strike/lockout dispute continues, demand it be cancelled and also endeavour to do so through further pending court action, which SAA is attempting to do,” said Back.

SAAPA went on strike a week ago, demanding, among other things, that the airline retrench them at their existing salaries.

In terms of the business rescue plan, the new, restructured SAA will retain only 88 of more than 700 pilots, Business Times reported.

The report quoted the association as saying that during negotiations last month, the business rescue practitioners had tried to get them to agree to accept retrenchment packages based on proposed new salaries which would see their current salaries cut by 50%.

SAAPA will further argue that salaries owed to striking pilots from before the commencement of the lockout be paid just as they were to non-cockpit employees.

The application has been placed on the urgent labour court roll.

Back said they are confident that they have a strong case and a decision in their favour on these issues would provide more clarity on a way forward.

“To reiterate, our members are all just seeking what is lawfully owed to them. We are also dismayed that what is essentially a legitimate labour dispute between employer and employees has now become in part an ugly and hurtful race-driven debate.”

Back's statement falls on the back of public enterprises boss Kgathatso Tlhakudi who  launched a scathing attack on white SAA pilots, accusing them of greed and maintaining a self-enriching apartheid-era labour agreement.

Back said, “SAAPA has decided to take the high ground and will not in future be part of, or respond to, headline-seeking rhetoric. All of us have given loyal and dedicated career service to SAA in positions of great responsibility. The demise of what is a proud and respected brand, as well as the financial hardship of not being paid in a year, is causing us and our families much distress.”

He said reports that pilots have rejected a collective settlement offer of close to R1bn are misleading.

“While the amount looks substantial, it includes a year of unpaid salaries for more than 350 pilots as well as retrenchment pay for our pilots, some with 30 to 40 years of service, and would be subject to taxation. The business rescue practitioners are also insisting that, highly irregularly, some of it be paid over three years.”

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