MORE THAN 1,300 employees at South African Airways (SAA) are planning to embark on an indefinite strike from Friday after the National Transport Movement (NTM) union failed to reach an agreement over its recognition at the airline earlier this week.
SAA’s image has been battered after a board of directors exodus and the resignation of its CEO late last year. This came after it reported a R1.25bn loss for the 2011 -12 financial year.
The airline further needed a R5bn guarantee from the National Treasury to ensure that its auditors were able to state that the ailing business remained a going concern.
The NTM and acting SAA CEO Vuyisile Kona met on Tuesday to discuss the union’s recognition at the airline after an interim agreement to halt the strike last Friday, the union’s secretary-general, Craig Nte, said on Wednesday. "Yesterday (Wednesday), he (Mr Kona) informed us the board had taken a decision not to recognise us.
"This is very strange, and may be the first time in history that a board gets involved in a union recognition matter ."
Mr Nte said compounding the "strange" involvement of the board was a letter SAA nonexecutive director and chairwoman of the remuneration committee Lindi Nkosi-Thomas had written. The letter said Mr Kona was acting beyond his authority by negotiating with the NTM.
The letter further said the GM for human resources was the approved person to handle all labour-related matters.
"The exco (executive committee), the board and the CEO — they are not one on this issue," Mr Nte said. "They are divided on whether they should recognise us or not."
Mr Kona had told NTM officials at Tuesday’s meeting that he had "threatened to resign" from SAA because of the problems between the executive and the board. These were aggravated by the pressure on the two to work together to draft a turnaround strategy for the airline.
The strategy was due in less than two months.
Mr Kona declined to comment on Mr Nte’s claims. "I am not going to comment on that — I am not allowed to talk to you," he said.
Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba handpicked Mr Kona to represent his department’s interests at the airline and to develop a coherent strategy after the leadership walkout.
SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said in a text message on Wednesday the airline had taken "note of the rumours that the acting CEO is about to resign".
"That is hardly true. The acting CEO is not about to resign."
Former chairwoman Cheryl Carolus said last year that the board had lost confidence in its relationship with the Department of Public Enterprises. There had been a complete "breakdown in the relationship".
Mr Nte said the NTM was formed last year after some Congress of South African Trade Unions-affiliated South African Transport and Allied Workers Union members became disillusioned with Satawu’s stance on corruption.
In November, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration advised SAA to give full recognition rights to NTM.
Mr Tlali said the airline was "not in a position to grant NTM the recognition they demand as (it) has not dispensed with all the requirements in order to enjoy such recognition".
SAA would "activate contingency plans in order to avoid disruptions" to operations in the event of the strike.