Durban – Staff at SAA are concerned about their futures.

With the imminent closure of the airline, about 4700 workers, including pilots, flight attendants and cabin crew members will be jobless.

Rescue practitioners have given unions until May 11 to decide whether or not they will accept the severance packages on offer.

The majority of staff belong to the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

In December 2019, the airline was placed under voluntary business rescue by the SAA board because it could not meet its financial obligations.

In February, the government announced that since 2008/2009, SAA had incurred net losses of more than R32 billion.

The Department of Public Enterprise had planned to assist the airline with its business rescue by giving it just over R16billion over a three-year period.

But in April it pulled out, after the airline requested a further R10bn.

The government has since confirmed it was developing a business case to create a new national carrier.

In a statement at the weekend, the department said the government and unions were working together on a business model that dealt with what a future national carrier would be.

It said the new airline would be funded through various options, including strategic equity partners, funders and the sale of non-core assets.

However, the state would continue to be the biggest shareholder.

A flight attendant described the situation as a losing battle.

“The union should just accept the packages. We have been going back and forth for months now and the situation has not improved. The uncertainty around my job security has impacted on my mental and physical health.”

The attendant, who declined to be named, said he believed his future was bleak.

“I am worried about how I will survive financially. The travel industry has been hit hard by Covid-19. The possibility of the travel ban continuing for the next month is likely.

I don’t believe other airlines will be employing staff. In fact, they might also look at retrenching staff in order to recover their losses.”

The 34-year-old said his only option was to seek employment elsewhere.

“The money from my severance package is not going to last forever. I may have to join my family business to survive this period.”

Another flight attendant said she intended moving out of her rented apartment to live with her parents.

“I did not prepare for this. I am lucky I have the support of my family. I have some money saved but it will only cover two months of my expenses. I would rather save this money and the money I collect from my retrenchment. I have no idea what the future holds.”

The 32-year-old said closing the airline was a blow to the aviation industry.

“The airline is a product of South Africa. It is difficult to accept that it is being reduced to nothing. There are going to be more than 4 000 South Africans without jobs at a time when our country is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to thousands of citizens without work.”

A pilot said he has had sleepless nights thinking about his job.

“I have a bond to pay on my home and children who attend private schools. With my investments and savings, I will only be able to manage for a few months before I run out of money.

“With Covid-19, the economy is not doing well. I cannot even consider investing my money into a business because things seem so uncertain.”

He said he felt he had been backed into a corner.

“There is talk of a new airline and a possibility of retaining staff but this is going to take time. It cannot happen overnight. In the interim, we will still be left jobless. “

Last week, both unions approached the labour court to try to prevent staff from losing their jobs. Their spokespersons could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Comair announced the group will enter business rescue.


By Charlene Somduth