SAA Industrial Action: Acting CEO speaks out

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Zuks Ramasia, Acting CEO, for South African Airways, on 17 November provided an update on the current situation at the airline in terms of:

• Safety and Security; 

• Update on discussions with Labour; 

• The call for a Secondary Strike; and

• Provide an Operational Update. 

The full statement reads as follows:


1. Safety and Security The safety and security of our customers, aircraft and employees are of paramount importance to South African Airways.  

SAA calls on the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to retract the untruthful and unfounded allegations that flying the national carrier is in any way unsafe.  

SAA has a proven safety record and we have an unwavering commitment to safety. The safety and security of passengers and crew is the highest single priority to SAA.

We do not compromise on that.  For example, we were the first airline in the world to train our pilots on ‘Upset Recovery Training’, and our instructors train airlines around the world on this. We remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of safety and security on all our flights. The unions’ allegations are malicious and represent an unfounded attack, as well as an insult to the Civil Aviation Authority, South African Airways, and South African Airways Technical (SAAT).  It is important to state that SAA is mindful of its obligations to comply with all regulations and continue to ensure safe and secure operations. SAA will therefore maintain the required levels of personnel, including oversight post holders and necessary compliance training during this strike period. 

We call on NUMSA and SACCA to retract these untrue and unfounded allegations with immediate effect. If they fail to do so, we will consider taking legal action. We would never put our long established reputation at risk. The safety of our customers is always our prime responsibility. 

SAA flight deck, cabin crew and technicians are highly qualified.SAA prides itself on producing world class and highly trained pilots, cabin crew and technicians. This is further evidenced by the fact that many other airlines are recruiting from us.  SAA pilots currently train other pilots on safety procedures.

Many airlines across the world has SAA pilots in their training structures. SAA is mindful of its obligations to comply with all regulations and continue to ensure safe and secure operations. SAA will therefore maintain the required levels of personnel, including oversight post holders and necessary compliance training during this strike period.   

SAA Pilots are NOT on strike neither are trainee pilots used. SAA trained cabin crew members and all of them meet the SA CAA requirements. SAA aircraft go through rigorous inspections as prescribed. Intimidation of employees SAA further condemns the intimidation of employees who have decided to work.  

Let us be clear: describing some of our employees as ‘traitors’ and threatening that “we know where you are” will not be tolerated. We will always protect our employees’ right to decide for themselves and serve our customers. The airline will not tolerate those seeking to intimidate those wishing to report for duty. Employees who intimidate or assault other employees, cause damage to SAA property or engage in any criminal act or misconduct may be liable for criminal prosecution, internal disciplinary action or arrested.  

Employees are encouraged to immediately report any acts of intimidation, damage to property, or any safety-related concerns to the Security Hotline on (011) 978-1018. Security personnel at all access gates and parking areas has been increased, assisted by members of SA Police Services (SAPS) to ensure that employees and vehicles are safe, including monitoring of access roads. Striking is a personal choice. No one should be pressured by a union or striker to participate in the strike.  

2. Update on discussions with Labour 

The CCMA met with the company and the unions yesterday, Saturday 16 November, in terms of the Section 150 process following SAA’s request to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to conciliate the salary increment impasse between SAA and SACCA/ NUMSA and NTM. The CCMA Commissioners ended a long day’s proceedings last night, tasking the company to consider options on the way forward and the company will then revert to the Commissioners in due course.  The Commissioners will then reconvene the discussions between the parties. 

Demands by NUMSA and SACCA 

Since NUMSA and SACCA gave SAA 48 hours’ notice to strike on Tuesday, 12 November 2019, their demands have been amended three times. The company has written two letters to these two unions requesting clarity on what exactly they are demanding on behalf of their members, to ensure that there is no confusion and/or uncertainty. Yesterday they relayed their demands to the CCMA Commissioners. NUMSA and SACCA have demanded an 8% salary increase. This is the only lawful demand made by NUMSA and SACCA under the current strike notices. 

SAA’s position 

The company has advised that the airline cannot afford to pay any salary increases. However, it has offered the unions a 5.9% salary increase effective in the March 2020 pay month. In addition, the company will pay the first six months back-pay, from 1 April 2019 to 30 September 2019, in March 2020; and the remaining six months back-pay in April 2020, provided that SAA has received funds to do so. The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company, the negative and dire ramifications that the company – and, by implication, each and every employee – would be exposed to by employees engaging in industrial action. When you strike, you don’t get pay! The salary loss as a result of an employee who embarks on strike action for a period of seven (7) days will take the striking employee 119 days (approximately four (4) months) to recover this salary loss if the 5.9% salary increase on Total Cost of Employment (TCE), is accepted and implemented. 

Impact on SAA 

We again wish to reiterate that the intended strike action will have serious financial implication to the company. We urge the unions to reconsider the strike, which will, without doubt, place SAA’s future in jeopardy. Please appreciate the fatal damage to SAA unless there is a resolution to this dispute. 

3. Call for a Secondary Strike 

SAA is concerned about NUMSA’s intention to start a consultation with all sector players for a full-on Aviation Strike. The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy. NUMSA has also called on SATUWU and NTM to join the strike.  A secondary strike will affect the competitiveness of the South African economy as a whole.  

4. Operational Update  

We are pleased that SAA 222 from OR Tambo International Airport to São Paulo, which was scheduled to operate on Sunday morning, is now airborne en route to Brazil.  The return flight from São Paulo to OR Tambo International Airport is expected to operate as scheduled and arrive back in Johannesburg on Monday morning. The other five international departures from OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday 17 November 2019, were flights to New York, London, Frankfurt, Munich and Washington DC via Accra. The first departures from OR Tambo International Airport to Perth and Hong Kong are expected to operate as scheduled from Monday, 18 November 2019. SAA’s departures from its international stations on Monday, 18 November 2019 include: London, New York, Washington DC (via Accra), Munich and Frankfurt to OR Tambo International Airport, and are expected to arrive on Tuesday, 19 November 2019. 

What passengers should do 

Passengers are advised to report to their departure airport as normal when in possession of a confirmed itinerary. SAA’s domestic and regional flights remain cancelled.  SAA has been working with its subsidiary airline, Mango, and sister airline, SA Express, to re-accommodate as many customers as possible travelling on domestic services.  Depending on availability, customers travelling to regional destinations are being re-accommodated on SA Airlink, a partner airline of SAA, and other airlines where possible.  SAA apologises to all its valued customers for the inconvenience and frustration caused by the cancellation of flights as a result of ongoing industrial action.   We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control.  We pledged to rebook all passengers caught up in the flight cancellations. We are working hard towards this goal and we are pleased to now be able to resume flights to all our international destinations. Customers seeking a refund or wishing to rebook their travel on a future SAA service have until 30 November 2019 to finalise their arrangements.