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South African Airways unions threaten a total shutdown of aviation industry

Unions operating at debt-ridden SAA have given the government seven days to fire the entire board of the airline and to persuade CEO Vuyani Jarana to withdraw his resignation.

SAA employees who are members of the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) picketed outside the OR Tambo, King Shaka, Cape Town and East London international airports on Wednesday. They said if their demands were not met, there would be a total shutdown of the aviation industry.

Jarana officially stepped down as CEO on Monday, citing slow decision-making and red tape at the airline, as well as blurred lines of accountability and lack of funding, as reasons for his departure.

SAA GM for operations Zuks Ramasia was appointed as acting CEO on Friday.

Numsa and Sacca accused the SAA board members of presiding over massive corruption at the airline, which has an outstanding debt of R21.7bn. The airline is operating at a loss and anticipates making a profit only in the 2021/2022 financial year, according to its long-term turnaround strategy.

The unions said they were not happy about problems in the airline’s maintenance department and allegations of nepotism and tribalism. They were also not happy about corruption allegations at SAA Technical.

Numsa’s Phakamile Hlubi-Majola talks to Business Day TV about the union’s demands

“Should our demands not be met, we will mobilise our members across SAA and other airlines where we are organised, including SAA subsidiaries Air Chefs, Mango, SAA Technical, and suppliers within the value chain and embark on a strike which will shut down [the] aviation [industry] as a whole,” the unions said in their memorandum.

On Friday, SAA said it needs R4bn from the government to survive the current financial year and allow it to renegotiate loan terms with banks. The airline has not made a profit since 2011 and Jarana launched a five-year turnaround plan that included slashing costs and cancelling unprofitable routes.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a media statement issued earlier on Wednesday he said the airline’s board and executive management met the labour unions on June 7 to provide an update on the implementation of the turnaround strategy.

“At that meeting, the board and executive management gave assurances to the unions that the airline’s strategic implementation was on track,” Tlali said.

Source: businesslive