A war of words has erupted between the SAA Pilot’s Association (SAAPA) and the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) over the three-decade long Regulatory Agreement (RA) .
The DPE says the evergreen RA between the SAAPA and South Africa Airways (SAA) is a financial burden and cannot form part of the new airline. The pilot’s association has refuted these claims, saying the RA is not the reason behind SAA’s financial distress and the responsibility to transform the pilots body lies with the government and the SAA rescue practitioners.
In a statement on Thursday, the DPE says the primary objective of the RA, which has been in effect since 1988, “is to preserve undeserved privileges accrued through unjust laws that preserved aviation careers to a small minority in this country.”
“These privileges came with unaffordable benefits and a salary framework, which should be terminated.”
The DPE says SAA pilots are the second-highest paid pilots in the world and “are not the only pilots to undergo salary cuts, as the rest of the global industry have experienced reduction in salaries and benefits for the overall benefit of the airlines and industry to take off again.”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has however distanced itself from the DPE assertions, saying that it is not privy to individual airlines’ commercial or employment affairs.
Under the RA, SAAPA’s members are also entitled to be accommodated in four- or five-star hotels when travelling. This contravenes a Treasury instruction which requires that three-star hotels be used.
The RA has been a source of contention between the pilot’s association and the rescue practitioners since the airline’s business rescue plan was adopted by creditors in July. SAAPA has on various occasions tabled alternative voluntary severance package (VSP) proposals instead of endorsing the package outlined in the rescue plan.
SAAPA said in a statement on Thursday that it has agreed to terminate the agreement and replace it with a new three-year collective agreement.
SAAPA’s Grant Back says the association has agreed ” to reduce salaries by up to 50%…. We have agreed to the removal of the successorship clause, agreed [on] new procedures on the hotel selection, agreed [on] reduced leave and sick leave allocations and reduced the daily meal allowance as per the company’s request.”
The only request which the association has not agreed to, according to Back, is the termination of employee contacts based on race.
On Monday, the fallout between the rescue practitioners and the pilot’s association reached a crescendo when the former issued the union with a 48-hour lockout notice until the union agreed to the new terms of new employment terms and conditions.
The notice prevents around 400 members of the pilot’s associations from accessing SAA premises from midday on Friday until the rescue practitioners’ demands are met. The BRP’s demands include reduced salaries and benefits for the pilots.
The DPE has come in support of the rescue practitioners’ move to lock the pilots out, saying the RA is unconstitutional and unlawful.
In a reply to a parliamentary question from ATM MP Thandiswa Linnen Marawu in November, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said given the make up of the SAA pilots list, which comprises mostly white males, the RA discriminates unfairly against white women, black men, and especially black women.
Gordhan added that the RA in its current forms impedes the government’s plans on finding a strategic equity partner for the ailing airline.
“An appropriate balance to transformational objectives which are meant to right the historical discriminatory policies while also ensuring we retain strategic skills that achieves the country’s demographics and gender objectives are non-negotiables,” the DPE said on Thursday.
SAAPA says it is seeking legal advice on the matter, adding that, “The latest actions taken by the company, the BRPs and supported by the shareholder to starve out not only the pilots but all employees in order to force them into signing extremely unfavorable and prejudicial terms, is grossly unfair and will not be tolerated.”
The lock-out notice given to the pilot’s association follows the DPE’s revised offer to unions on Tuesday. The department has agreed to pay out three months’ outstanding salaries to SAA employees who have not been paid for eight months. Employees will also be back paid a 5.9% increase.
Employees have until close of business on Thursday to accept or decline the offer.