Workers at South African Airways (SAA) have applied for voluntary retrenchment en masse. This comes as the troubled national airline has failed to pay employees’ salaries for the past four months.

SAA has around 4 600 employees.

Now, more than 3 146 of them want to leave the company. These include more than half of management; over 600 pilots; two-thirds of cabin crew and almost the entire ground staff.

“Most of the workers are taking decisions based on the fact that they have to survive more than anything. I can assure you that most of the workers who have applied for Voluntary Severance Packages are not doing so because they want to go, they are seeing that they have to choose between the survival and something which they know cannot come up. So, it’s about their families; it’s about meeting their financial obligations and the number is overwhelming,”  says President of the National Transport Movement, Mashudu Raphetha.

The National Transport Movement (NTM) is a splinter union from the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu).

According to SAA’s Business Rescue Plan, 2 700 workers are earmarked for Voluntary Severance Packages at a cost of R2 billion.

That means, not all the 3 146 applications will be approved. And still, the government is yet to raise the money needed to fund the Voluntary Severance Packages and the entire Business Rescue Plan which is set to cost around R10 billion.

Raphetha says the delay in finding the money is a cause for concern to the unions.

“We are very much worried, we were hoping that that money would have been availed by now.”

In the video below Public Enterprise Spokesperson Sam Mkokeli says the government is working to deal with issues affecting SAA employees: 

SAA management and the unions are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the way forward.