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SAA Pilots’ Association: ’No option’ but to strike

Pilots have given the airline 48 hours’ notice.
Saapa says the airline is attempting to ‘unlawfully cherry pick’ only those pilots it needs while keeping the rest locked out. Image: Supplied

The SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) has threatened to go on strike over “vindictive and slanderous” conduct at the hands of the airline’s business rescue practitioners (BRPs) Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson.

The association represents the majority of pilots at South African Airways (SAA).

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The pilots have been locked out of the airline since December, following a deadlock in negotiations over the three-decade-long regulatory agreement.

Saapa has given the airline 48-hour notice prior to the start of the strike. This will be the first time in 50 years that SAA pilots embark on a strike.

“Saapa pilots have endured and withstood over three months of lock out and were last paid a year ago,” says Saapa chair Grant Back. “The company has now realised it actually needs the highly skilled pilots it has locked out and is attempting to force a selected few back to work, while comically attempting to blame the pilots for the decision to lock them out.”

Back says the company late on Monday evening (Mach 29) notified pilots of an opportunity to return to work despite the lockout.

Back told Moneyweb the airline was attempting to “unlawfully cherry pick” pilots who belong to Saapa in an attempt to unlock only those pilots needed while the lockout of all Saapa pilots is still in full effect.


SAA seeks to nullify the regulatory agreement (RA) which gives Saapa members privileges over pilots belonging to other unions. The long-term sustainability of the airline is dependent on the termination of the RA, according to Dongwana and Matuson.

SAA tries to replace locked-out pilots with outsiders

SAA pilots fuming over unpaid salaries

Saapa however says it has agreed to accept demands tabled by SAA, including the demand by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) that the pilots change the requirements for seniority for career advancement within SAA.

In addition to agreeing to the termination of the RA, Saapa has also demanded that the locked-out pilots be retrenched “as there is simply no reason why SAA and the BRPs have not done so, other than to further their agenda and attempt to prejudice the pilots of SAA,” Back said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan accused the union’s members of “sabotaging” the SAA rescue process by withholding valuable training of pilots which “can easily be done daily quickly in order that pilots are up to date in terms of the regulatory requirements”.

Read: Government to foot the bill for ‘restructure’ of new SAA

Back has hit back at Gordhan’s accusations, saying the pilots that are required to perform training have been locked out of the airline with the “blessing of the DPE”.

“Any attempt Saapa has made to work together with the company or the BRPs for the last 15 months, has been met with disinterest and our many attempts to assist or reach a compromise have been blocked at every opportunity.”

SAA, which has been in business rescue since December 2019, has received R7.8 billion of the R10.5 billion required from the government for the fulfilment of the rescue business plan. This amount covers payments to employees, payments to post-commencement creditors and unflown ticket liabilities.

In total, 3 246 employees at the airline have signed voluntary severance packages agreements. These were concluded in August last year, one month after creditors approved the airline’s business rescue plan. The payments however exclude Saapa members.

Saapa has demanded that SAA pilots who formed part of the Section 189(3) notice dated July 18 last year be retrenched by no later than April 15. The union has also demanded that the airline pay the pilots their remuneration upon retrenchment.

“Saapa will avail itself for a meeting with the BRPs or the company to avert the strike,” said Back. “But if all else fails, we remain unified and ready to meet any challenges.”

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Just one big sick mess

Strike? How so … they aren’t even flying! Are they just going to stay home twice as hard?

Why? Whats the point?

To force retrenchment?

The point is to ensure they’re treated as fairly and reasonably as all the other unions and parties were treated, and to stop the slanderous misinformation to parliament by DPE minister Gordhan!
Has this minister even ONCE admitted publicly he gave far too many bailouts and excuses for the absense of audited financial statements? NOW he’s still blaming everyone else except himself!

They’re sitting at home, as you refer to it, because they were KICKED OUT, not because of own choice! Gordhan and the BRPs locked them out but now that they need their training skills, the BRPs and DPE use the pilots as scapegoats through slander and refuse to take any responsibility for the mess! Excellent move – go on strike – the BRPs were hoping for a winner takes all but need to begin to understand the art of professional negotiations and labour rights!

Stay home twice as hard? Is there such a thing? Hahahahaha

Stay home twice as hard-brilliant

The strike will be like a public alleged servants’ strike: how will you be able to tell if they’re on strike?

Gordhan, the DPE and BRPs are not in the least interested in reaching agreements; if they don’t get a winner takes all outcome, they try back-handed tactics like using outsiders; make extreme false accusations in public (using inflammatory words like “sabotage”) etc

This is the way you get your way in this country: Strike, threaten violence, trash the place etc. Everyone else is doing so why not the pilots?

Planes are not flying. Pilots: “when are we going back to work?”
Planes starting to fly. Pilots: “we are going to strike”
Who gives a rats tail what they do. There are plenty of carriers to chose from so by all means – Shoot yourselves in the foot and get it done with already.

Flyinfik, you claim planes are starting to fly; sure, FlySafair, Lift, etc. And SAA?
Not! (Except unnecessary and highly costly vaccine-collection flights to Belgium where they use inadequately trained pilots, compromise safety and then try to fool tax payers.)

It is their right and why should there be an issue with a peaceful strike? If they start burning stuff or damaging property though it’s a whole new story and should not be allowed for sure. Everybody should have the right to protest peacefully as long as it is not a riot.

I am stunned at the naivety of the Safrican public. What is happening to these good, hard working professional pilots is a mirror image of 100,000 other instances of decent people being fired, locked-out, retrenched, ignored or intimidated to not show up to work — yet you ridicule the only option these pilots have. You Mamparras!

Another option is to get another job. You know, just like everyone else has to who finds himself in this kind of mess. I understand that’s not easy during lockdown, but pilots are better placed than most. After all, they were making damn good money while they were still flying: hopefully they were saving some of it for hard times like these.

Agreed. And I have slept like a two year old for hours on every long distance flight because of those highly qualified pilots. Try going onto YT and find in-cockpit radio comms with Ground Control, I would be impressed if you could understand just 5% of what is being said, never mind a 777 into Hong Kong at night with low viz.

That’s their job, for heaven’s sake. And I can’t understand Xhosa or 9 other SA languages either…

Pilots are better placed than most? Haha, with Covid and all the global flight stoppages going on for a year already?

I support your strike guys. Without you, the remaining “pilots” at this so-called airline, will be allowed to prove their skills!

If the aircraft can stay in the air, then affirmative action has merit. If it fails to take off, then affirmative action is a strategic failure.

The calamatous flight to Brussels proved that affirmative action is a disaster waiting to happen. The plane would have crashed on the runway, if it wasn’t for the automated systems on board. The computer flew the plane.

Inventions in aviation engineering by the neo-liberal nations, prevented the socialist ANC inventions in social engineering from destroying itself.

Individualism, accountabily and capitalism saved the best pilots of the socialist regime from disaster. Nothing new here.

And these clever heads thought they got away with that near stall on take off, however both Airbus and Rolls Royce have an automated message system back to their Service and Safety Dept. that was aware of it before they even reached cruise altitude.

Another reason why i will boycott saa forever – if any saa plane gets in the air again let gordhan use it himself and show his own confidence in it

What was hilarious, after the plane automatically sent distress messages to Airbus in Toulouse, was that the pilots said the plane was lying. Must be a racist plane with an agenda, then, hahaha!

The new SAA is trying to re-emerge as an entirely BEE entity and unable to literally get off the ground.They now want the White Pilots who they shut out ,have neither paid not retrenched to help them !!!
It’s like asking someone to teach the hangman how to knot their own noose !!!

No pilots, no-fly, no-fly no airline! Wasn’t it the highly incompetent managers who created this predicament for SAA in the first place? Why must the pilots bite the bullet?

Well I think some planes will fly after numerous exemptions from the so-called CAA “regulator” but with under skilled pilots and taxi type plane maintenance overlooked. So they will not fly far or for long. Maybe around SA and Africa, for a while; the first world does not want flying bombs overhead.

Sure. Next time vaccine is due for collection from Europe, the T&Cs will be clear: “Flying bombs prohibited overhead”

End of comments.





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