SAA pilots may only start their strike in January

The SAA Pilots' Association (SAAPA) will not go on strike until it has gone through the correct process, its chairperson Grant Back tells Fin24.

SAAPA is set to meet with the board of SAA on Monday.

On Friday morning at 04:00, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) are starting their strike at the airline.

The two unions are unhappy with a restructuring process SAA announced on Monday, which might lead to 944 jobs being cut, saying the financial woes of the embattled state-owned airline are due to corruption and bad management and therefore not of their doing.

Furthermore, SAA has rejected Numsa and SACCA's demand for an across-the-board wage increase of 8%.

Earlier on Thursday SAAPA said in a statement that it stands firmly behind calls by NUMSA and SACCA) for strong, accountable leadership at SAA.
"The employees of SAA did not put the airline into the financial mess it is in, SAA's management team did. We, therefore, reject any attempts by management to renege on its commitments to the employees of the company," SAAPA states.
"SAAPA will continue to pursue the shared objective of all the airline's employees – the appointment of a capable and accountable leadership team at SAA with the ability, the will and the independence from political interference to enact a real turnaround strategy at SAA."

Back told Fin24 that SAAPA had put a number of its own demands, along with specific timelines, on the table in August. The demands include the appointment of a CEO with aviation experience and that a skills audit be done.

Since the beginning of last year, SAA reduced its number of pilots by 122, or 18%, to just below 600. The cost to company of pilots to the airline is now 10% lower.

"If our demands are not met, we will first go to the CCMA and follow the correct procedures regarding meetings that should take place with the company. If there is a deadlock, then we will try mediation. Only once mediation fails will we ballot our members about a possible strike," Back explained.

If this due process is followed, he does not foresee the possibility of a strike before January next year.

Back emphasised that SAAPA's demands and the process it is following with management at the moment have nothing to do with the current wage dispute the airline has with Numsa and SACCA.

In terms of a legally binding 5-year salary agreement, currently in place after a prior arbitration process, SAAPA members get salary increases of 5.9%.

Back further emphasised that SAAPA's current demands also have nothing to do with SAA's recently announced restructuring plans and potential job cuts.

"SAAPA's demands relate purely to the pilots wanting better leadership with the necessary skills and who are held accountable," said Back.

Fin24 recently reported that SAA is scrambling to obtain R2bn funding before the end of the month.

At a media briefing about the restructuring on Tuesday afternoon, SAA interim chief financial officer Deon Fredericks said that, without the required funding things would be "very difficult" for the airline.

Over the past 13 years, the flag carrier has incurred over R28bn in cumulative losses. 

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