The SAA Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) told the Sunday Times that it will continue its industrial action against the national airline until its demands are met.
SAAPA represents 89% of SAA’s pilots, and its strike prevents these members from being used by SAA.
Crucially, the strike includes seven SAAPA management pilots, who need to occupy these positions in order for SAA to maintain its air operating certificate.
“Without these post holders and instructors at the airline it will prevent further operations. Due to the strike they don’t have anyone, as required by Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] regulations, holding those posts and they can’t operate now without those posts being filled,” said SAAPA chair Grant Back.
“Plus, there is a CAA safety audit scheduled for May and if that safety audit isn’t done there is a possibility that SAA will lose its AOC.”
Back argues that since this is a “defensive strike,” SAA may not bring in “scab labour” to replace those on strike.
However, joint SAA business rescue practitioner Siviwe Dongwana disagrees with Back on this point.
Dongwana said that according to “labour lawyer advice, we are entitled to employ scab labour because we believe the move by Saapa is not a defensive strike.”
Key demands for which SAAPA is pushing include that workers be retrenched at their existing salaries.
We won’t be blackmailed – Government
SAAPA and SAA have been on a collision course for several months.
In February, the union slated the national airline regarding a flight to Brussels to pick up a batch of COVID-19 vaccines in February.
Back labeled the flight a waste of money, stating that it would cost around R5 million to fly the Airbus A340-600 to and from Brussels.
The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) responded by accusing SAAPA of trying to discredit the relaunch of flights at SAA since this was occurring without the union’s workers.
“They have raised unfounded allegations of safety… regarding the preparations for vaccine repatriation flight,” the DPE said in February.
“They are now raising a new allegation about the financial viability of the flight.”
“By providing this kind unwarranted attack on SAA Cargo, this minority pilot group is holding SAA to hostage and attempting to destroy the very employer who could provide them with the continuation of their professional practise in years to come,” the DPE said.
“The DPE will not be blackmailed by SAAPA and their greedy habits.”
Claims of successful SAA rescue are fiction
Last month, the DA criticised claims that the SAA business rescue process was a success.
DA Member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) Alf Lees said that the business rescue process has cost South African taxpayers R7.8 billion in bailouts since it began in December 2019.
“The facts are that the business rescue has cost the taxpayer, and poor South Africans in particular, a massive R7.8 billion in cash taxpayer bailouts since the business rescue process started on the 5th of December 2019,” said Lees.
“In addition, the business rescue will continue to drain at least another R8,0 billion in a futile attempt to begin minuscule flight operations and to keep our dead national bird operational.”
“Considering the fact that the ANC and the Department of Public Enterprises have abandoned SA Express and allowed it to be liquidated, so should they have let SAA be liquidated and used the billions wasted on it to stimulate the economy and save at least some of the millions of jobs lost as a result of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s irrational lockdown regulations,” he said.