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Unions 'found out through the media' about SAA’s planned job cuts

The state-owned company has begun Section 189 consultations with labour as part of its turnaround strategy.

FILE: The anger by unions stems from what they regard as dishonesty by SAA. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Recognised trade unions representing workers at the South African Airways (SAA) are seething on Tuesday after the ailing national carrier announced large scale restructuring which could lead to mass job losses.

The state-owned company has begun Section 189 consultations with labour as part of its turnaround strategy.

While SAA concedes it does not know how many workers will be affected, it estimates 944 employees might be retrenched.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Cabin Crew Association said they would stage what they described as the “mother of all strikes against SAA”.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: “As far as we’re concerned, it is a veiled threat to get workers to drop their demands for wage increases and the demand for the removal of the SAA board. And we condemn the management with the contempt that they deserve.”

The anger by unions stems from what they regard as dishonesty by SAA.

They claim the national carrier told them just last week that the organisational re-design for restructuring was not complete.

Meanwhile, transport union Satawu’s spokesperson Zanele Sabela said they were not impressed with SAA.

“It is ridiculous because all the unions were in a forum on Friday, so we were surprised that on Monday they let the media know that they’re thinking of restructuring.”

SAA denied claims by the trade unions that it failed to consult workers about the pending restructuring process that could lead to mass job losses.

Spokesperson Tlali Tlali is at pains to explain how unions and the organisation ended up on opposite ends regarding the sensitive Section 189 process.

According to the Labour Relations Act, the company is under obligation to issue written notice to workers and their representatives before commencing the restructuring process.

Tlali said the SAA did just that.

“The Section 189 process is initiated through the process of a written notice and we did this yesterday with labour unions after which we then decided to put out a media statement.”

SAA said it had to implement its turnaround strategy to make the airline future-fit and competitive, adding that headcount was key to achieving this.

SAA explained that it urgently needs to address its ongoing loss-making position, which has been a challenge over the last eight years.

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