Public Protector concerned about intimidation of whistleblowers at SAA

Cape Town – Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Friday afternoon expressed concern over allegations that South African Airways (SAA) was trying to intimidate employees who disclosed information about alleged corruption to her office. 

SAA, however, said that four employees were dismissed for “grossly inappropriate” comments on social media. 

In a statement, Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Cleopatra Mosana said the public protector received a complaint on July 23 from members of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) alleging that employees of SAA were being victimised.

"In the complaint, SACCA alleged to have submitted correspondence as evidence which was directed to SAA Executives, the Board of Directors and National Treasury wherein they raised issues relating to maladministration, corruption and tender irregularities," Mosana said.

"SACCA further submitted that SAA had allegedly charged their members in retaliation to them having made a protected disclosure."

Mosana said on July 25 Mkhwebane requested that SAA suspend the disciplinary hearings of the employees, pending an outcome of the preliminary investigations into the allegation of harassment. 

She said Mkhwebane had a meeting with SAA executives, including board chairperson Dudu Myeni, on Monday where it was agreed that SAA would not proceed with the disciplinary proceedings, pending the investigation. 

On Thursday, SACCA, however, informed the Public Protector that SAA continued with the disciplinary hearings.

Impugned reputation

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali denied that the state-owned company ever made commitments to halting the disciplinary action. 

He said the decision to discipline the employees stemmed from “inappropriate, derogatory, insolent comments” made on social media against certain managers at the state owned company. 

“Their conduct has impugned the reputation and dignity of these managers and has brought the company into disrepute,” Tlali told News24. 

“The decision to institute proceedings against them is not an act of victimization but of enforcement of policies in relation to code of conduct applicable to all employees.” 

He said SAA was willing to co-operate with the investigation of the public protector into any maladministration.

“In our view, the issues must be separated and be dealt with in accordance with appropriate legislative framework under distinct factual scenarios.” 

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