SAA pilots willing to strike to 'save' national airline

SAA pilots say they will strike, if necessary, to turn around the national carrier. Stock photo.
SAA pilots say they will strike, if necessary, to turn around the national carrier. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/ Jaromír Chalabala

SAA pilots said on Thursday they were willing to go on strike, if necessary, unless “critical operational and technical deficiencies" were addressed.

“It needs to be understood that the decision to embark on industrial action is not one that the pilots of SAA will take lightly. Indeed, if such a strike is embarked upon, it would be for the first time in SAA’s  80-year history,” said Captain Grant Back, chairperson of the SAA Pilots’ Association.

The association said in June that it may resort to industrial action unless a “competent leadership team” was appointed to turn around the national carrier.

SAA Spokesperson Tlali Tlali told radio 702, at the time, that the airline was “not impressed” with the message put in the public domain by the association, particularly on the appointment of Zuks Ramasia as interim CEO. He said their comments were causing instability for the airline and its employees.

'Extremely poor'

An independent survey, commissioned by the association, canvassed the views of 516 out of 635 SAA pilots on what was needed to turn around the airline. Key among the findings were that 91% of pilots said operations management was “poor” to “extremely poor”; 96% were in favour of taking a “proactive stand” to force change at the carrier; and 90% were in favour of engaging in protected industrial action.

Pilots and the association said they could not allow SAA to continue as if it were business as usual. “Our numerous engagements with the company have not yielded outcomes that give us confidence in the future of the airline," the association said on Thursday.

“The vast majority of recent appointments are in an ‘acting’ capacity reminiscent of the Dudu Myeni era, where appointments were made based on allegiances instead of skills and experience."


The association said it had sent a letter to the company in August 2019 that included the following demands:

  • The appointment of a CEO within 90 days whose previous work experience included the post of CEO and who had specialised skills and experience in the turnaround of an airline.
  • The appointment of a retired or active pilot to the SAA Board (a person with the required skills, knowledge and experience pertaining to large, jet-powered aircraft operations).
  • The restructuring of flight operations
  • A independent skills audit within 60 days of all general managers and heads of department, including those in acting positions.

“The bottom line is that SAA will not recover unless critical operational and technical deficiencies are immediately addressed by a strong leadership team. It is imperative that every member of this team has the necessary skills and experience to turn around the business and to ensure its sustainability going forward. 

“We trust that the company will consider our demands with the seriousness required. If not, we will be left with no choice. Our pilots have indicated that – if necessary – they are willing to embark on lawful industrial action to save the airline.”


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