Government lashes out at ‘unreasonable and greedy’ SAA pilots

The lowest earner of SAA’s 170 senior pilots earns R3.6m a year, excluding benefits and incentives.
Image: Supplied/SAA

With the lowest of SAA’s 170 senior pilots earning R3.6m a year, excluding benefits and incentives, the department of public enterprises says it will not accede to changes to the proposed retrenchment offer as it seeks to resuscitate the airline.

The department accused the South African Airways Pilots’ Association (SAAPA) of making “unreasonable and greedy demands”.

Earlier this week, the government said about 2,700 SAA employees would lose their jobs, with voluntary severance packages being offered. In total, the severance packages are valued around R2.277bn. According to figures provided, the pilots account for the biggest chunk of the total retrenchment costs.

On Friday, the department said it “is concerned that pilots are seeking benefits which are far more costly, more lucrative and financially rewarding for the pilots than for any other class of employees at SAA”.

“For example, in the latest voluntary severance packages (VSPs), the 600 SAA pilots make up 13% of SAA staff, and they consume 45% of the wage bill. The lowest earner of SAA’s 170 senior pilots earns R3.6m a year, excluding benefits and incentives. Of the R2.2bn proposed budget for the VSPs, pilots will get more than R1bn.”

The department said SAAPA has proposed:

● Retrenching 1,548 employees and retaining 3,099 employees – 2,000 for the start-up of the new airline, 435 on a temporary layoff scheme, and 664 on furlough (furloughed employees are retrenched but can be called in as required).

● Reducing the number of retrenched employees from 3,647 to 1,548, excluding the 664 on furlough. This means the total cost of SAAPA’s proposal would be R1.986bn against the budget of R2.2bn that DPE had proposed to fund its proposal.

● Retained workers be kept on a part-time basis of 75% and be paid accordingly.

● Further cut in salaries of the pilots (20%) and employees 10%.

● Improved VSP to incentivise senior pilots.

● Provide opportunities to the younger and, in particular, formerly disadvantaged pilots to advance their careers.

The department said: “The DPE does not believe that the SAAPA proposal is in the best interest of SAA, its employees, creditors and other stakeholders and has informed SAAPA that its proposal would exacerbate a prolonged economic recovery in a post Covid-19 era.

“SAAPA’s proposals seek to retain a much larger number of employees – in particular more pilots – in a new, restructured, viable and competitive airline that must emerge from a business rescue process for SAA. These purport to be affordable now, when in fact they would cause the base costs of starting a new airline to be substantially higher, unaffordable and unsustainable.

“What SAAPA fails to recognise and accept is that the terms and conditions of employment of the pilots is still based on the premise that SAA is an internationally competitive and profitable company.

” … The reality is that SAA in its current form is financially unsustainable, insolvent and is in business rescue. What is important in this new reality is to avoid liquidation by getting the creditors to vote in favour of the business rescue plan and then starting the long and difficult journey to regain the lost market share in the domestic, regional and global market.

“Accordingly, the DPE has informed SAAPA that their proposals cannot be accepted nor will they accede to any further unreasonable and greedy demands from sections of union leadership for additional benefits.”

SAA’s business rescue practitioners have scheduled a creditors’ meeting for Tuesday, to vote on the business rescue plan.

A vote in favour of the plan by 75% of the voting interests would be required to carry the vote. A vote against the plan would result in the protracted and costly liquidation of the airline, said the department.

Labour appeal court rules in favour of unions on SAA retrenchments

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