There has been mixed reaction from unions representing employees of South African Airways (SAA) to the approval of the business rescue plan for the financially-embattled State-owned national flag carrier. The plan was approved by 86% of the airline’s creditors in a vote on Tuesday.
The approval of the business rescue plan was welcomed by the SAA Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) and greeted with relief by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca). But it was met with dismay by Solidarity.
For SAAPA, the vote would “go a long way towards providing a path forward, after an immensely fraught period”. Exiting business rescue was in the best interest of the airline, its employees and all affected parties, and the approval of the business rescue plan was the first step out of business rescue.
“Although we are not entirely satisfied with the plan … we are relieved that the drawn-out and rather wasteful business rescue process is now coming to an end,” said Numsa and Sacca in a joint statement. “We have fought very hard to prevent the liquidation of the airline and we are relieved that this strategic State-Owned Entity (SOE) which plays such a crucial role in the aviation and tourism sector, has been saved from total collapse.”
“The approved business rescue plan does not address any of the key problems,” dissented Solidarity Research Institute head Connie Mulder. “The plan inevitably means that taxpayers will be confronted with bailouts to the struggling airline for years to come due to the pride and vanity of the government. In a manner of speaking, the business rescuers, creditors and the Department of Public Enterprises have placed a band-aid on a patient who needs open-heart surgery – we will soon be in the same situation again.”
The appointment of Philip Saunders as SAA interim CEO also divided the unions. It was welcomed by SAAPA but not by Numsa or Sacca and ignored by Solidarity.
“The appointment of Philip Saunders … with his experience in the airline industry, is encouraging,” affirmed the pilots’ association. “SAAPA has repeatedly emphasised the value and necessity of competent leadership with experience in the airline industry, and we hope that the interim appointment of Mr Saunders marks an important step in the right direction for the airline.”
“We have noted that Philip Saunders has been appointed as interim CEO of the airline,” stated Numsa and Sacca. “Philip Saunders is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at SAA and therefore a member of the current executive management at the airline. He is part of the very same disastrous management team which brought the airline to the brink of collapse. … We need fresh ideas and visionary, dynamic leadership without the baggage of the past, if we are to succeed in turning the airline around.”