ANC kept us in the dark about SAA job cuts, says Cosatu

Confused passengers who did not know anything about the planned SAA strike action. (Canny Maphanga, News24)
Confused passengers who did not know anything about the planned SAA strike action. (Canny Maphanga, News24)

As the tripartite alliance finally moves forward from tensions over being kept in the dark regarding Finance Minister Tito Mboweni's economic document, Cosatu is now crying foul that the ANC had failed to communicate the impending retrenchments at SAA.

On Tuesday, Cosatu's affiliate union, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, applied for an urgent interdict to halt the airlines' bid to retrench almost 1 000 workers.

SAA announced its intention to retrench 945 workers on Monday. The announcement came shortly after a two-day meeting of the alliance council comprising the top six of Cosatu, the ANC and SACP. 

The announcement has led to an historic strike, with the airline cancelling its flight schedule for two days. At least 3 000 workers have downed tools to demand an end to retrenchments and an 8% wage increase. 

Speaking to News24 on Friday, Cosatu's deputy general secretary, Solly Phetoe, said they were blindsided by the announcement. 

"We were coming from a two-day meeting where we discussed the economy at length for hours. At no stage did our alliance partner, the government and people in leadership positions in the ANC, tell us about retrenchments at the airline. This is the frustration we are facing as the alliance. We were left in the dark.

"Where is the commitment that was made at the summit to protect jobs and create jobs?"

"While we are busy trying to find solutions to our economic challenges, state-owned enterprises [SOEs] continue to retrench. Where is the commitment that was made at the summit to protect jobs and create jobs? 

"It was a surprise for us. Tito [Mboweni] was there, and at no stage did this announcement come up. At least they should have taken us into their confidence so we could say, 'let's engage'."

It is expected the airline will lose an estimated R50m daily during the unprotected strike. This while it faces bankruptcy, with its debt having increased to R15bn more than its assets. 

While the ANC has agreed with its alliance partners on a common perspectives against the privatisation of state assets and retrenchments, Phetoe believed some in the ANC's leadership were working to sabotage this commitment and selling the airline.  

Phetoe added to quell tensions within the alliance over state-owned enterprises, the union federation had proposed that each of the three alliance partners should delegate three of their leaders to form a task team. This team would make a final proposal to the political council. 

"If we agree on the proposal, we would take it to the economic transformation committee which advises the government. It is clear that there are those in the ANC who are disrespecting the government.

"People are looking to benefit if SAA is sold. There are those who continue to undermine the president, either within the ANC or government but certainly in business. If there is an honest discussion by the alliance, we may resolve the problem," he said.

Speedy resolution to strike

Meanwhile, the SACP is calling for meaningful consultation to resolve the strike amicably as a matter of urgency.

"The SACP identifies itself with good governance, the national imperative for public enterprises to be operated in a sustainable and developmental manner, whilst at the same time dealing with the plight of the workers sensitively and professionally," it said in a statement on Friday.

The SACP also wants the management of SAA to be transparent about all the cost drivers and the extent to which they are affecting the viability of the airline.

"In addition, the SACP is calling upon the SAA to disclose the details and costs associated with the aircraft lease and fuel agreement/s, including any 'middlepersons' and their cost implications and impact on the viability of the national airline carrier."

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