Unions reject SAA rescue plan over job cuts

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Two South African unions on Friday rejected job cuts proposed to rescue South African Airways, which has cost the government more than a billion dollars to stave off bankruptcy and will cost it about half that again to reform.

State-owned SAA went into a form of bankruptcy protection in December, and since then state-appointed administrators have been trying to see what they can salvage.

Unions had been in discussions with them and had previously accepted that some job cuts would be necessary.

In the video below, jobs bloodbath hangs over South Africa

The current plan, which would involve laying off about 90% of staff leaving just 1,000 jobs, will cost at least 10 billion rand ($573.9 million). That is on top of the 20 billion rand that has been spent just keeping the airline afloat in the past three years.

But The National Union of Metalworkers of South African (NUMSA) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), angered by what they said was mismanagement of SAA by executives, on Friday rejected staff severance packages as too small and job cuts as too wide-ranging.

NUMSA is one of the biggest unions in South Africa, a country in which trade unions wield sizeable political power since the national umbrella union is an alliance partner of the ruling party.

“These workers cannot be sacrificial lambs and we cannot allow for a situation where they must pay for this crisis,” the two unions said in a statement.

“We reject with contempt the announcement that only 1 000 employees will be retained … as it is tantamount to unleashing a job loss blood bath,” they added.

The unions said they would seek redress in labour courts.

SAA has failed to turn a profit since 2011 owing to an expansion into competitive, loss-making global routes and a fleet of excessively fuel-hungry planes. Its problems were exacerbated when it had to suspend commercial passenger flights in March due to COVID-19.