South African Airways Pilots Are Considering Going On Strike

Yet more woes for South African Airways (SAA) after its largest pilots union, the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA), has threatened to go on strike from April 1. SAAPA represents 89% of all SAA’s remaining 350 pilots.

South African Airways SAA A340
SAA pilots vote to go on strike from tomorrow. Getty Images

For the first time in the SAAPA’s 50 year history, its members held a strike ballot, with 98% of its members voting in favor of strike action. Pilots belonging to the SAA Pilots Association have been locked out of the workplace since the 18th of December. This came about following failed talks with the airline’s Business Rescue Practitioners (BRP) over new employment contracts.

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The union is looking to unlock the impasse

The union says that it plans to hold a lawful and protected strike and hopes to unlock the impasse with the Business Rescue Practitioners. Under the lockout conditions, the airline kept seven of the union members unlocked, which was lawful. What they cannot do is bring back more pilots once locked out.

According to Pilots Association chair Grant Back, several days ago, some pilots who are SAA instructors received notices to return to work. The union leader says that locked-out workers cannot just return to work. Unlike most strike action where employees are demanding better working conditions or more pay, SAA pilots ask to be retrenched and paid three months notice pay.

SAA wants to fly to Brussels for vaccines

In February, a special emergency exemption for not undergoing training was given to certain remaining pilots to transport 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines from Brussels. SAA now wants to return to Belgium for more vaccines but needs instructor pilots for simulator training.

South African Airways SAA A340
SAA wants to be able to bring more vaccines from Belgium. Photo: Getty Images

During the flight on February 24, the crew of an SAA Airbus A340-600 miscalculated the aircraft takeoff weight by nearly 90 tons and could have stalled had it not been for the aircraft safety features taking over. While not being verified, reports into the incident suggest that the pilot did not have the correct number of recent flight hours to be operating the flight. Because of financial problems, SAA suspended all operations in September, which has led to pilots not having the hours needed to keep flying.

Some pilots have not been paid for a year

In a SAAPA statement carried by Times Live about the looming strike and what was going on at SAA, chairperson Grant Back said:

“SAAPA members have been targeted in a vindictive and slanderous fashion by the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) and the Department of Public Enterprises in the press and recently at Scopa, where the minister himself targeted SAAPA and made a statement that SAAPA was sabotaging the relaunch of SAA.’”

Grant has accused the Business Rescue Practitioners and the Department of Public Enterprises of using COVID-19 as a means of attrition against SAA pilots, many of whom have not been paid for nearly a year.

SAA pilots want to be paid so that they can get on with their lives. Photo: Getty Images.

All SAAPA members want at this stage is to be paid money owing to then and three months severance pay so that they can get on with their lives. Considering that the airline is still being restructured, it seems hard to understand why the BRP doesn’t pay off the pilots and tear up all agreements. They would then be free to rehire or even hire new pilots for the airline.

What do you think about the SAA pilot strike? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.