- To read a copy of the DPE's statement, click here (0.38 MB)
The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has urged unions representing employees of financially-embattled State-owned airline South African Airways (SAA) to hold bilateral meetings among themselves to establish an agreed future for the carrier. SAA was under business rescue and its creditors were scheduled to vote on the business rescue plan for the airline on July 14.
The DPE reported that it had held separate meetings with all the SAA unions and with representatives of the airline’s non-unionised staff. Of the seven unions represented at SAA, four plus the non-unionised staff representatives have accepted in principle the voluntary severance packages (VSPs) being offered by the DPE to SAA employees.
The four unions are the Aviation Union of Southern Africa, the National Transport Movement, Solidarity and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union. The VSPs include one week’s salary per year of completed employment, one month’s notice pay, a 13th cheque (an extra month’s bonus cheque), a pay out of accumulated leave and a top-up of severance packages. The packages could only be offered if the creditors approve the proposed business rescue plan.
The VSPs have so far not been accepted by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the South African Cabin Crew Association and the SAA Pilots’ Association. The DPE stated that, in its meetings with these three unions, it had addressed their concerns about the numbers of SAA staff that would be retrenched and the per-employee value of the VSPs.
“The Department emphasised that the 1 000 people [new SAA staff] startup number and the R2.2-billion budget for the VSP[s] were arrived at with the view to ensuring restructuring results in the formation of a viable, sustainable, competitive airline that provides integrated domestic, regional and international flight services,” said the DPE in its statement. “It is important that we have an airline that emerges from the business rescue that will not be burdened by an unsustainable agreements.”
The DPE additionally cautioned that it could not acquiesce in any demands from the unions for more benefits for their members. The R2.2-billion already budgeted for the VSPs was the best that could be done. The country was facing a financial crisis which was placing “massive” demands on the government.
It pointed out that current SAA employees who took the VSPs would be eligible to apply for jobs at the new, post-business rescue, SAA, as it expanded. Furthermore, they would be offered participation in a social development plan, currently being finalised, that would re-skill them and provide them with opportunities to find new jobs, within and without the aviation sector, as the economy recovered. Everyone, but especially employees, would lose out if SAA was liquidated, warned the DPE.