After 16 months without pay and an ongoing lockout, the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA) has finally reached an agreement with the airline. And while the airline says a great deal of care, sensitivity and thought went into the process, SAAPA said the pilots had been ‘starved out’ of their position.
This will allow the Department of Public Enterprises to move forward with the implementation of its ‘clean slate’ approach to starting up the new SAA. The terms of the agreement with SAAPA will see an estimated 280 of SAA’s remaining pilots retrenched and the termination of the contentious evergreen regulatory agreement, which has, until now, governed pilot employment conditions.
SAA said in a statement: “This marks another significant milestone towards resuming operations. It follows the in-principle agreement reached on July 6, and a vote by member pilots, with a significant 94,9% majority in favour of the agreement in a ballot process that closed on July 11. The negotiations have taken more than ten months, and SAA appreciates the spirit of commitment by all parties in finding a reasonable solution to the impasse. The agreement will see SAA retaining 88 pilots from the total remaining pilots.”
The carrier said that much care, sensitivity and thought had gone into the process and the parties had achieved an optimal balance between vital experience required in the cockpit and addressing the company’s transformation objective. “Our next step now is to accelerate the last stage of preparation for the airline to return to the skies,” said SAA acting ceo, Thomas Kgokolo, who also confirmed that SAA had already started the process of making payments to pilots who did not require tax directives.
However, SAAPA chairman, Captain Grant Back, was less upbeat about the deal describing the 16 months that SAAPA members had gone without salary payments as “a literal attempt by the shareholder, the BRPs and the company to starve us out”.
“We believe that the agreement that has been reached is the best that we could do in the circumstances that we found ourselves in,” said Grant.
The new agreement will see termination of the original regulating agreement (which governs SAA pilots’ terms of employment and which has no expiry date). Eighty-eight pilots will be retained by SAA but at only approximately 50% of their original salary. Pilots’ daily allowances and perks will be cut and standardised in line with perks offered to other SAA employees.
The selection criterion for the remaining 88 pilots has been determined – this stipulates that of these 88 pilots, 34% will be black, 9% coloured, 14% Indian, giving a total of 57% from previously disadvantaged groups. The remaining 43% will be white.
In future, explained Grant, the demographics of the pilot group would be determined by an employment equity override criterion to ensure that transformation took place in this sector.
“For 36 months, preferential recall will apply to the retrenched pilots, according to a recall list of pilots compiled according to seniority. However, an employment equity override will be applied here, which will mean that the recall will be done according to the targets of SAA’s new employment equity plan that will be put in place over the next three months,” said Grant.
More than 225 SAA pilots had already accepted SAA’s voluntary severance packages, which, Grant said, was according to the bare minimum required by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This leaves what Grant estimates to be about 280 pilots to be retrenched (in SAA’s press release, the airline says it will retain 88 of the total 268 remaining pilots). These pilots will be retrenched according to their current salaries, receiving one week of pay for each completed year of service. They will also get two months of notice pay, as opposed to the three months that they were contractually entitled to, and three months’ back pay. Grant said this was less than was awarded in the recent arbitration case by retired Judge Harms. All accumulated and accrued leave will also be paid out at full value up until December 18, when the lockout took effect. Pilots will also get 13th cheques for the 2019 and 2020 years and will receive payment of their salaries from December 1-18 before the lockout took effect.