'We want our CEO back' - unions at SAA

State-owned airline SAA carried 6.9 million passengers in the year ending March 2016.
State-owned airline SAA carried 6.9 million passengers in the year ending March 2016.

The South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have embarked on a protest demonstration demanding the reinstatement of the man they refer to as "our CEO" - the outgoing Vuyani Jarana.

The two unions staged lunchtime pickets at airports around the country, in protest against Jarana's resignation as well what they deem inaction on a forensic report by EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) submitted to the board in 2015, which implicated executives and board members in mismanagement at the national carrier. The EY report was based on reviews of 48 procurement contracts awarded by SAA and its subsidiaries Air Chefs, Mango and SAA Technical, Fin24 previously reported

Jarana cited a lack of support from government for his turnaround strategy, as well as uncertainty of long-term financial support among the reasons for his resignation, Fin24 previously reported.

The unions have previously claimed in a statement that Jarana was deliberately frustrated out of office.

The nationwide pickets culminated on Tuesday afternoon in the submission of a memorandum of demands which include President Cyril Ramaphosa's intervention at SAA.

Treasurer of the South African Cabin Crew Association Gift Bilankulu told Fin24 that the association expected more than 500 employees to picket in Johannesburg alone. She said by virtue of being picket demonstrations, operations at the national carrier on Tuesday would not be disrupted.

"The core purpose of our march is a demand for our CEO to be brought back and that he must be given the support he needs. We also want the president to intervene. If that does not happen, we will escalate the issue," said Bilankulu.

"We are worried. Before Jarana came in, we told the media that there are people implicated in audit reports who needed to be held accountable. The acting CEO who was there before Jarana came along did not want to hear what we were saying," Bilankulu said.

Numsa national spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told Fin24 that the union took issue with challenges in SAA Technical and the maintenance department including the outsourcing of core competency functions and other examples of mismanagement.

"At the heart of the problem, he (Jarana) devised a turnaround strategy that government refused to support him on. He was very involved in devising a turnaround strategy and was interested in saving SAA but got no support from the board or government and was actually sabotaged," said Hlubi-Majola.

Hlubi-Majola said Jarana strived to include unions in his efforts to turn SAA around but got no support from the board or government. She said Numsa believed this was was because he was trying to clean the national carrier up and hold errant officials accountable.

"The issue of corruption is there have been several forensic investigations at technical by EY. Action was supposed to be taken against executives. Jarana was a CEO who was active in trying to clean up the airline," Hlubi-Majola said.

SAA said on Tuesday that it was cooperating with unions and working to keep its turnaround strategy going. 

In a statement, the airline said once it had received the memoranda, it would "take all steps necessary to ensure that the matters raised by the employee unions receive attention and are responded to".

"The Board and executive management of SAA met with the labour unions on 7 June 2019 to provide an update on the implementation of the turnaround strategy to stabilise the airline," it added. "At that meeting, the Board and executive management gave assurances to the unions that the airline’s strategic implementation was on track."

It would also provide support and assistance to customers, the airline said.

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