Unions slam SAA route cancellations, warn of 'devastating' impact on jobs

Two key unions at flag carrier SAA have slammed plans by the airline's business rescue practitioners to cancel a number of routes to save costs. 

"This will have a devastating impact on workers and their families because it effectively means that SAA in KZN, PE, Durban and East London will be closed down and workers will be retrenched," said the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the South African Cabin Crew Association in a joint statement. "No consultation whatsoever has taken place with labour as required by law and the business rescue practitioner has acted in flagrant disregard of the provisions of the Labour Relations Act."

On Thursday the practitioners announced the cancellation of all SAA's domestic routes apart from the popular Johannesburg to Cape Town flight.  A number of regional and international routes would also be axed, as the airline, which received a R3.5bn loan in late January, rushes to bring down costs. 

"The initiatives we are taking now will strengthen SAA’s business. We believe that this should provide reassurance to our loyal customers that SAA is moving in the right direction," said Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana. On the same day the South Gauteng High Court ordered that SA Express go into business rescue.

In a joint statement on Friday morning, the two unions said the route cancellations would hurt workers, and reiterated that larger cost savings could be had by reexamining and suspending procurement contracts. 

They argued the business rescue practitioner had also so far failed to produce a business rescue plan. 

"Not only were patently corrupt contracts not suspended, but the very incompetent if not corrupt management which caused the demise of SAA were permitted to continue managing operations to the further detriment of SAA," the unions said. 

The joint BRPs, on Thursday, said they would take "every effort" to limit the impact of job losses in SAA and its subsidiaries, but did not say how many jobs may be affected. 

“It is our intention to restructure the business in a manner that we can retain as many jobs as possible. This will help provide a platform to a viable and sustainable future. However, a reduction in the number of employees will unfortunately be necessary”, said Matuson and Dongwana. 

They also promised to engage with both organised and non-organised labour, and noted that the President had last week authorised a probe into SAA procurement to be carried out by the Special Investigations Unit. "This measure will help in assessing viable agreements and in reducing SAA’s cost base," they added. 

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