Two trade unions, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca), have jointly expressed support for the workers of financially embattled State-owned regional airline SA Express. The workers organised a protest march, without any assistance from the two unions, to demand that the government intervene in SA Express and pay the workers’ salaries.
SA Express is currently under provisional liquidation. Its employees have not been paid since the end of February. They had to endure the national anti-Covid-19 lockdown without any salary. The only support they have received was a R7 000 payout from the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme. This amount was lower than the salaries of most of the workers involved.
“This payout was only possible because as unions we pressurised the Department of Public Enterprises [DPE] and Treasury to make these monies available, a decision which was not supported, because the entity was facing liquidation,” affirmed the unions in their statement. “But eventually, they relented and money was paid to employees.”
The unions also reported that they had actively been seeking ways to save the airline. They had held discussions with creditors, to turn debt owed by the airline into equity in it. They had found a possible funder from the “UAE group” and briefed the DPE about this. Numsa and Sacca did not know if the DPE had proceeded with the proposal.
“In our deliberations with [the] DPE we have made it very clear that no worker should be left behind, and that all efforts must be made to save SA Express and save jobs at that airline,” stressed the unions. “Government as the shareholder has a duty to save State Owned Entities [SOEs] because they can contribute directly to rebuilding our industries.”
Numsa and Sacca highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic had severely hit the country’s aviation and tourism sectors, because of the international and national travel bans. They called for direct intervention by the State to restart these sectors. “[I]t can do so through SAA [South African Airways] and SA Express,” they asserted, citing examples of other countries, such as Germany and the US, where the governments had bailed out their airlines.
“We want a State owned SA Express which is viable and free of the corrupt board and executive, and where labour, together with other stakeholders are represented on the board, in order to guarantee transparency and eliminate corruption,” they stated. “The same must happen at SAA and all our other SOEs.”