SAA staff placed on forced leave as airline cancels flights during lockdown

With negotiations between labour unions and SAA business-rescue practitioners put on hold, the airline has told its workers to stay at home during the country’s 21-day lockdown

This follows SAA’s announcement that it would be suspending all domestic flights from Thursday, in line with the three-week shutdown. Last week, the  airline’s business rescue practitioners, Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, suspended all regional and international flights as governments around the world implement travel bans in a bid to combat the spread of Covid-19

In a letter sent to employees on Wednesday, and seen by the Mail & Guardian, workers have been ordered to take forced leave from Thursday, a day before the lockdown. Staff are required to report to work only if contacted by their line managers. 

Only staff deemed critical and essential are exempt from the compulsory leave. 

“In the event where an individual’s current leave balance is insufficient to cover the compulsory leave measures, such leave will be regarded as unpaid leave,” the letter reads. 

The decision by the rescue practitioners to place workers on leave and suspend domestic flights follows heated negotiations between the rescue practitioners and labour unions earlier in the week regarding the airline’s retrenchment process. 

The rescue practitioners last week wrote to unions requesting that the retrenchment  process be fast-tracked, as the airline’s funds could run out by March 31. At the time of issuance of the Section 189 notice, the airline had anticipated that it would still be generating significant revenue from ticket sales. These projections have now been adjusted as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Last week, unions and the rescue practitioners were meant to begin consultations on the Section 189 notices that were issued to workers earlier this month. This was, however, postponed to this week, after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration suspended its operations in line with the declaration of a national disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Leaked voice note

In a leaked WhatsApp voice note, South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) spokesperson Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi can be heard telling union members that this week’s consultations were conducted through video conferencing. 

During the consultation, unions questioned the legality of the Section 189 process in the absence of a published business-rescue plan, in line with the Companies Act. The plan is scheduled to be published on March 31, but the rescue practitioners have requested an extension. 

Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said the danger in allowing the retrenchment process to continue before the release of a business plan is that “people can leave and SAA could still not exist”. 

“Labour is not the biggest cost driver that is bringing SAA to its knees. It’s things like fuel and leases and maintenance … even if they got rid of all employees today, SAA would still not survive in one or two months,” she said. 

In correspondence to unions earlier this month, the airline’s rescue practitioners said that all 4 708 employees will be affected by potential job losses and that 2 268 employees will face the axe when the restructuring process is complete. This number excludes employees from SAA subsidiaries Mango, SAA Technical and Airchefs.

If these retrenchments are not concluded before the end of March, the rescue practitioners warned that the airline could face liquidation. 

In the voicenote, Nsibanyoni-Mugambi can be heard telling members that the unions have rejected the rescue practitioners’ proposals to expedite the retrenchment plans because “people will leave” under conditions of intimidation and fear. 

“The business-rescue practitioners to continually threaten us with liquidation is basically putting fear … but it does not mean as unions we must throw you guys [employees] out with the bathwater and not make SAA survive [in the ] long term,” she said. 

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday