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Unions put hope in new airline

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Trade unions are looking to a new airline to rise out of the ashes.

TRADE unions representing employees of troubled SA Airways (SAA) are looking to the new airline expected to emerge from the ruins of the 86-year-old national carrier to save thousands of jobs.

Five unions – the National Transport Movement (NTM), SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), Aviation Union of SA, SAA Pilots’ Association and Solidarity – are in talks with SAA’s business rescue practitioners Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson to secure severance packages for the airline’s 4 708-strong workforce.

NTM president Mashudu Raphetha said yesterday that SAA needed R3billion for severance packages and that more than half (about R1.8bn) would go to pilots, who are among the airline’s highest paid employees.

Raphetha indicated that the unions, including representatives of non-unionised employees, were trying to get the best possible deal for workers, but were opposed to the selling of SAA’s assets as they would be needed for the new airline.

According to Raphetha, the airline does not have the R500million required to pay monthly salaries.

SAA employees have not been paid their March and April salaries.

“It’s time for the government to sort itself out,” said Raphetha.

Unions are also in separate talks with the Department of Public Enterprises for a business case for the new airline. The NTM assured its members that details of the new airline and its business case will be made available in due course.

Talks are at an advanced stage with the department and there is a possibility that the government will find a strategic equity partner for the new airline, which will operate locally, regionally and internationally, according to the NTM.

Raphetha further said SAA would most likely be merged with financially-distressed SA Express, which was placed under liquidation on Tuesday, as it did not make business sense to have a separate regional airline (SA Express).

The NTM has promised its members that it will safeguard their interests and rights, including re-employment, prioritisation of insourcing and transformation and the union hopes to conclude negotiations on severance packages by end of business today.

Satawu general secretary Jack Mazibuko said the main aim for unions was to ensure that SAA is not lost, but also to ensure that job opportunities at the new airline are taken up by the retrenched employees.

“Workers must be involved in the new airline,” Mazibuko said.

He added that SAA’s business rescue process, which started in December, failed to produce a turnaround plan for the airline.

Instead, Mazibuko continued, Dongwana and Matuson rushed to retrench employees as if they were to blame for the national carrier’s woes.

Mazibuko said Dongwana and Matuson were very stubborn and unwilling to engage.

Unions have tabled proposals for two categories of severance packages for top earners, who include pilots and the rest of the workforce.

In terms of the unions’ proposal, the high earners will get a week’s salary for each year of active service at SAA, while their lowly-paid colleagues receive two weeks’ pay.

Mazibuko said unions were also against Dongwana and Matuson’s plan to pay severance packages from six months after selling SAA’s assets.

Worker representatives have appealed to the government to assist with the timeous payment of severance packages to retrenched SAA staff.

The country’s biggest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), yesterday denied that there was an agreement to establish a new airline, but that unions were engaging on a restructured SAA.

Numsa and the SA Cabin Crew Association do not want SAA to be liquidated, but want an agreement reached on the form and shape of a restructured national carrier.

The business rescue practitioners’ spokesperson, Louise Brugman, was not available for comment yesterday.