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SAA pilots fuming over unpaid salaries

Saapa members have been locked out of the airline since December.
SAA needs to settle the matter of outstanding salary and voluntary severance package payments before the restructured airline will be able to proceed. Image: Guillem Sartorio, Bloomberg

The SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) is headed to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to compel South African Airways (SAA) business rescue practitioners Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson to pay the 13th cheque its members would have received at the end of 2020 as well as three months’ back pay.

This is the deal offered to pilots who jumped ship and joined rival union the National Transport Movement last year, according to Saapa chair Grant Back. 

Saapa also wants the airline to pay its members eight months of unpaid salaries.

SAA has been unable to pay employee salaries since March last year.

Back said Saapa is going to the CCMA to argue that the non-payment is unfair, and that by not paying salaries that have accrued yet remain unpaid the rescue practitioners are acting unlawfully.

Severance package payments

SAA is preparing to disburse payments to former management, specialists and pilots, including former Saapa members, who agreed to accept voluntary severance packages (VSPs) in August last year.

Read: SAA gets R5bn from govt to pay laid-off workers – statement

The VSP payments are expected to be made in this week, with straightforward ‘Part 1’ payments due to be made on February 17 while the remainder will be paid on or from February 19.

The rescue practitioners said in a statement: “Part 2 payments shall be made for all VSP applicants for whom the BRPs [business rescue practitioners] have received tax directives, and where employees do not have a tax number on application for the directive, an application will be made on their behalf for a tax number. There may be a delay in payments made in respect of Part 2 while the BRPs await allocation of tax numbers to those employees who don’t have tax numbers.”

Roughly 40% of Saapa’s 650 members accepted the VSP offer and have effectively terminated their contracts with the airline, according to Back.

The remaining members are still subject to the lockout that was implemented in December last year, during which they are not entitled to any benefits or payments from the airline.

Back told Moneyweb that 30 Saapa members resigned from the association in December before the lockout was implemented to ensure that they would be eligible for payments according to the settlement agreement – because of their “desperate” situation. 


The rescue practitioners want the pilots to cancel their current regulatory agreement and agree to new employment terms and conditions, including accepting new salary scales for captains and first officers.

Back previously said that SAA has tabled several significant demands, most of which have been accepted by Saapa – and that one of the SAA and DPE’s chief complaints is the seniority system of career advancement in the aviation sector.

“The DPE claims that this system is unlawful because it holds back transformation and does not allow for the acceleration and promotion of pilots from the designated groups as defined in the Employment Equity Act,” said Back, adding that the system is used globally and is a crucial safety component in allowing pilots to make decisions in the best interests of safety at all times – even when this conflicts with the commercial interests of the airline.

The BRPs said on Tuesday that 3 246 employees at the airline have signed VSP agreements. These were concluded in August last year, one month after creditors approved the airline’s business rescue plan.

This follows the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) providing further funding of R5 million to the airline to go towards the payments severance packages. The airline has received R7.8 billion of the R10.5 billion required to fulfil its business rescue plan. 


Cabin crew and ground staff are receiving their severance package payments in two tranches.

The first was disbursed on February 12 and included:

  • One month’s notice payment in lieu of notice
  • Payment of the full entitlement of accrued leave 
  • Pro rata 13th cheque if applicable, and
  •  A 2019 salary increase of 5.9% backdated, if applicable.

The second tranche is expected to be disbursed on February 19 and includes:

  • One week’s remuneration for each completed year of service
  • VSP top up if applicable, and
  • VSP incentive if applicable.

The rescue practitioners have made back-pay payments to an additional 164 employees who accepted the agreement. A total of 82% of employees have been paid in terms of the settlement agreement, according to the statement. 

This follows a Labour Court ruling earlier in February that dismissed an application by two labour unions – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) – to have the settlement agreement lawful and unfair.

Read: SAA: Numsa and Sacca backpay application dismissed

The court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the matter and referred the two unions to the High Court. 




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We had some of the best pilots in the world at SAA, but the chasm of ineptitude displayed by successive delinquent CEO’s will forever be a burden to SA.

Also the best remunerated – which, while it won’t have caused the demise of SAA, certainly wouldn’t have helped its predicament.

With reference towards the 19 Feb 2021 payout:

i am for sure not a specialist in labour law and for sure not in love with saa, but as far as my limited knowledge goes, one week’s remuneration for each completed year of service, is the bear minimum by law to be paid out – nothing to write home or get excited about

The pilots only have one entity to blame… the ANC

Compared to what workers in a run of the mill bankruptcy / business rescue receive, all the workers (pilots through tea leady), these workers should shut up, take the money and run. 13th cheques, leave pay, notice month, incentives!

Agreed. It is most unusual for a bankrupt wreck of a company to receive capital to pay retrenchment packages. Whoever puts this money tends to throw good money after bad. But this was another great idea of Mr Zuma s accomplice…his CFO..ANC stalwart, former pharmacist…Pravin Jamnadas ala state guarantee to solve problems Gordhan!!

This whole rescue debacle is another sham perpetrated by the ANC at the expense of the tax payers. Instead of saving face they have now proved that they are totally inept at running anything, they employ some shysters who are no doubt charging a fortune, to put the airline back in the air, but the only people who can put it back in the air, literally, are being shafted. The word EMBARRESSMENT does not exist in the ANC vocabulary.

Pilots do nothing nowadays… they are basically glorified taxi drivers and need to be treated as such…. everything is automated and electronic

…yeah until an engine failure, or some nutjob takes a cabin crew hostage with a plastic fork or knife over appalling food

Wow…I hope your non-glorified Noord Taxi driver can assume duties and fly us over to Hong Kong. Eeh, never mind, please use your non-gloried taxi driver when you are on your next flight to Nkandla.

I don’t think you’ll have that opinion coming in to land with an engine on fire

I hope they do not drive (Fly) like our taxi drivers. If it is so easy why are you not flying a boeing?

True story. They’re unionised & overpaid glorified bus drivers. Without data they have nothing. AI males them redundant

Looted and bankrupted.Very sad what happened to SA.

Hi dogmoodley69

Spend 15 minutes of your precious time on YouTube, watch any flight cockpit video (even for a 4 seater Cessna) … if you can understand but 5% of just the radio traffic with ATC (Air Traffic Control) I would be impressed ..very. Then find a vid with landing at night in low viz into Hong Kong or London … it is not video games boet.

Fair enough, we’re not talking taxi drivers or bus drivers here (or shouldn’t be). On the other hand, it’s important for people to understand the entry barrier in the way of anyone who wants to become a pilot. It’s not an IQ of 110+, or an ability to run the 100m in -11s:it is in fact R1 million. So not too difficult, provided you can scrape together the necessary green stuff.

The longest decision ahead a pilot will ever take is about 10 hours. Most senior managers have to plan ahead many years, and for only a fraction of the pay reward.
Also most pilots work only about 50 hours a month – same as what senior managers do in a week.
Pilots add zero value to airlines, and technology will replace them within 10 years thankfully

End of comments.





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