Union welcomes win for SAA pilot in defamation case

Cape Town - The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) has welcomed the Gauteng High Court decision to award R450 000 to former South African Airways (SAA) pilot, senior captain John Harty in defamation damages.

Harty told Fin24 last week that he is relieved to have won the defamation case he brought against the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) and two of its officials. Harty, a former chair of the SAA Pilots’ Association, has 39 years' experience and retired from SAA earlier this year when he turned 63.

The Gauteng High Court issued a default judgment in Harty's favour on December 15, awarding him R450 000 in damages plus interest. The two Satawu officials and the union must also pay Harty's legal costs. The court action was not opposed.

"The entire ordeal was simply distasteful and unbecoming of the national carrier in its inconspicuous silence and unsupportive manner towards senior captain Harty, who served the airline with distinction, alongside the integral role he played as chairperson of the Fedusa–affiliated Airline Pilots Association of SA (Alpa–SA), Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said in a statement.   

George said the ruling will force people to think carefully about what they post on social media and to act in a responsible manner at all times.

"The matter not only unduly defamed the decorated image of senior captain Harty, but likewise brought the frail image of SAA into disrepute once again," emphasised George.

"Fedusa vehemently condemned SAA management for doing nothing to help captain Harty during his harrowing ordeal, but instead allowed the hearsay matter to prolong without unearthing the critical evidence."

READ: Pilots enter vote of no confidence in SAA board

George added that the ruling will also go a long way in addressing governance issues at SAA and other state-owned enterprises such as the SABC.
“We have always had full confidence in senior captain Harty as a man of integrity, who put the interest of the national carrier first, and above everything else,” said George.

Harty told Fin24 that about a year ago he was suddenly contacted by the Hawks and questioned about allegations made by Satawu. These included allegations that Harty and fellow SAA pilots were plotting to bring down a plane piloted by a black pilot.

Harty pointed out that the union started making these false allegations about a week after a vote of no confidence was brought by 457 out of 472 SAA pilots against the airline's chairperson Dudu Myeni and the non-executive directors of the board.

A second allegation made by Satawu was that an aircraft on its way from Hong Kong to Johannesburg was diverted to Durban to drop off some of Harty's family members. A third allegation made by the union was that a flight from Johannesburg to Hong Kong was made to fly via Durban due to high temperatures in Johannesburg, thus increasing the crew's working hours and, according to the union, putting passengers at risk. Harty said there was no such thing.

Harty pointed out to Fin24 that SAA obviously did not think there was any substance in these allegations as he was never taken off duty nor interviewed by anyone at SAA about them. None of his fellow pilots were ever interviewed about it by SAA either.

Yet, Satawu continued to publish the false allegations on its website and on social media and referring to it in radio interviews, even claiming Harty should be tried for treason.

"All these claims were untrue," emphasised Harty. "Throughout this saga I have had no support from SAA management at all. That is quite disappointing to me."

Fin24 contacted Satawu for comment, but has not received any feedback by the time of publication.

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