Cape Town - Low-cost airline Mango is prepared to pay millions of rand for alternative arrangements so as not to disrupt operations due to a pilot strike, yet it would only cost Mango about R3m more to accommodate the pilots' demands.
This is according to a Mango pilot, who told Fin24 that pilots viewed the strike as an absolute last resort.
Members of trade union Solidarity at Mango began to strike on Monday morning after the airline declared a dispute with the trade union, thereby causing negotiations to deadlock.
The pilots are demanding an 8.5% salary increase after their last 3-year salary agreement with the airline expired at the end of September. Mango is offering the pilots a 6% increase.
According to the pilot, the difference is only a total of about R3m a year for all of the about 110 pilots.
"It is certainly not a case that the pilots 'just want to strike'. We don't want to hurt Mango. We want to see the airline grow. We just want the public to understand where we are coming from and the situation we find ourselves in," the pilot, who wants to remain anonymous but whose identity is known to Fin24, said on Tuesday.
He insisted that the pilots' demands were an attempt to retain pilots at the airline.
"We want our pilots to feel that if they join the company, they have a career ahead of them. At the moment it is not like that. We have lost almost half our pilot group to other airlines - mostly in the Middle East," he said.
The pilot alleged that Mango pilots fly the same aircraft, the same local routes and have to maintain the same standards as South African Airways pilots, but they earn less. He said they also earn less than Comair pilots.
According to him the pilots commissioned a salary benchmarking report from a specialist company. The report looked at the data of more than 1 000 companies, including that of Mango. It found the salaries of Mango pilots lagged below the median.
He said the pilots want to eventually earn the median, market related salary - which would still be lower than the salaries of SAA pilots.
The pilot said Mango's management rejected the findings of the report, saying it did not include data from the aviation sector. He, however, said that adding the few aviation companies in South Africa would not change the median by much.
According to the report, the salaries of Mango pilots are about 23% lower than the median and that of first officers about 40% below the median.
"We want increases phased in over a few years in order to reach at least the median. That is why we are only asking for 8.5% now. Pilots at other airlines have received salary increases in line with what we are asking," said the pilot.
In an emailed response to a request for comment, Mango said it would be engaging with Solidarity on Wednesday morning.
"At this stage we would not like to comment... we are engaging with the union tomorrow morning and do not want to prejudice negotiations as the process is still not concluded,” it said.
A statement on its website on Tuesday evening stated that it was "working to make sure they [guests] reach their destinations. All passengers have been accommodated and we will advise of any delays or cancellations via SMS, email or at the check-in counters".
An additional demand by the pilots is to have a regulating agreement for the airline, setting out the terms and conditions of employment.
"We accept that the nature of the job is that we have to work irregular hours, weekends and public holidays. The problem comes regarding our rest periods. Currently there are too many grey areas in the company's scheduling guideline 'open for interpretation' by the company," said the pilot.
"We rather want to work with hard facts. We want a regulating agreement. We are willing to have the negotiation of the terms facilitated by a commissioner of the CCMA."
The pilot said that SAA and SA Express both have such a regulating agreements, but not Mango.
Meanwhile, trade union Solidarity said in a statement late on Tuesday that it had been approached by Mango Airlines to return to the discussion table for a possible agreement.
Solidarity Deputy General Secretary Deon Reyneke confirmed that the union would be available for negotiations.
“As we said from the outset, we have been willing to negotiate all along, but the company was the one who turned its back on the collective bargaining process,” said Reyneke.
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