Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan says the failure to ‘transform’ the pilot corps at SAA is a symptom of the general failure of leadership at the airline, and old agreements which have impeded the transformation process need to be terminated.
Responding to recent written parliamentary Q&A, Gordhan said that this lack of transformation is primarily result of a 1988 regulating agreement (RA) which had a primary objective to ‘preserve undeserved privileges accrued through unjust laws that preserved aviation careers to a small minority in this country’.
“These privileges came with unaffordable perks and salary framework which should have long been remedied.
“The airline (and the business rescue practitioners) on the insistence of the department is addressing the matter of RA as it cannot become part of the new SAA,” he said.
Gordhan said that the regulating agreement is an evergreen collective agreement entered into between South African Airways Pilots Association (SAAPA) and South African Airways in 1988.
The RA regulates the terms and conditions of employment of pilots and contains volumes of onerous provisions on SAA, he said. “It is our view that the RA is unconstitutional and unlawful, and it is imperative that it be terminated.”
Gordhan argued that the RA is unlawful and unconstitutional for the following reasons:
- The evergreen nature of the regulating agreement is in breach of section 23(4) of the Labour Relations Act (LRA). Section 23(4) of the LRA does not contemplate or permit collective agreements which have no fixed term, no specific notice period and which may not be terminated on reasonable notice – in other words it does not contemplate or permit evergreen collective agreements, said Gordhan.
- The regulating agreement precludes and impedes SAA achieving meaningful and expeditious transformation which is in breach of the Constitution and the Employment Equity Act. In particular, in terms of the RA, the principle of seniority rigidly and directly affects and controls all elements of the manner in which pilots are employed and dealt with by SAA, including promotions, demotions, salaries and so on. “Given the make-up of SAA’s pilot list, which comprises overwhelmingly of white males, this operates to the detriment of and discriminates unfairly against white women, black men, and especially black women,” said Gordhan.
- The regulating agreement effectively removes core elements of decision-making from the board and management of SAA and precludes SAA from giving effect to its procurement obligations. Gordhan said that this is in breach of the Constitution, the Public Finance Management Act and the Companies Act. The effect of the Regulating Agreement is that SAA is precluded from reaching any agreement to wet-lease SAA aircraft without the consent of SAAPA, he said.
- The RA has a “succession of ownership” provision which means that notwithstanding any changes in ownership of SAA, the RA will remain in full operation. Considering the fact that Government has taken a decision to find a strategic equity partner (SEP) for SAA, the RA in its current form, combined with succession clauses, will no doubt make SAA less attractive to potential partners.
“In engagement with potential Strategic Equity Partners (SEPs), the department has placed the transformation of pilot corps as an imperative to the partnership,” said Gordhan.
This is to ensure that national developmental objectives in aviation should still receive priority in the new SAA, he said.
“An appropriate balance must be attained to correct historical discrimination, retention of key skills, and achieving the correct demographic and gender objectives.
“This is a non-negotiable set of objectives. It is important that all pilots cooperate in achieving these objectives.”