Air Zim in crippling strike

2011-08-06 17:03

Chaos reigned at Air Zimbabwe this week, with the airline grounding all its flights but ­continuing to take payment from travellers who were ­unaware of the flights being cancelled.

The embattled airline grounded all its flights last Friday ­following a pilots’ strike that dragged on into this week.

According to Air Zimbabwe chief executive Innocent ­Mavhunga, the airline’s 49 pilots were in dispute with the carrier due to salary negotiations having reached a deadlock. He could not say when services were due to resume.

However, irate passengers told City Press that the airline had not been truthful about its state of non-operation, taking bookings and flights during the strike period and leaving travellers stranded.

Johannesburg resident Makhosi Chiwashira made a booking with Air Zimbabwe to transport her son from Bulawayo to Johannesburg and paid for the flight on July 31, when the strike was already in full swing.

“I made a booking and paid for it but no one said a word about the fact that the flights were grounded,” said Chiwashira.
Now she is battling to get a refund from the airline.

According to Mavhunga, the airline, which has international routes to Johannesburg, China, Malaysia and London, has informed its passengers about the problems it is ­experiencing.

“We have put it in the press and contacted passengers through our reservation system,” he said.

He admitted the strike was detrimental to business as this was still peak season, during which 5 000 to 8 000 ­passengers were flown every week.

Mavhunga also denied ­suggestions that technical ­problems caused by the ageing fleet were also affecting the ­airline’s ­efficiency.

“We are registered by IATA (International Air Transport ­Association) and have no ­problems with the planes,” he said.

This was Air Zimbabwe’s ­second strike this year. It followed a crippling two-month downing of tools by pilots in March, also due to salary ­negotiations, that brought the airline to its knees.

In April the government gave the airline a lifeline to the tune of $3.8 million (about R25.6 million), which kept it afloat for a few months.

A brief strike took place on July 15, during which pilots withdrew their labour for the most part of one day.

But two weeks later, on ­July?29, when the dispute had still not been resolved, a ­full-blown strike came into ­effect.

The strike has set the airline back by $600 000 in lost revenue since it started.

Air Zimbabwe board chair­person Jonathan Kadzura told the Zimbabwean daily NewsDay that the strike was costing the airline $100 000 (about R675 000) a day.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was scathing about the ­effect of the strike.

“Air Zimbabwe, our national carrier, should be anchoring tourism in Zimbabwe, just like other national airlines in ­neighbouring countries, like the South African and Kenyan ­airlines,” Mzembi said.

“The situation is now a ­national tragedy to which any responsible government cannot continue to be an audience in the melodrama that is ensuing.

“The airline needs drastic ­surgery for it is in the intensive care unit.

“The strike is not only hurting tourism but also ­impacting negatively on other facets of the economy,” he told NewsDay.

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