The South African Federation of Trade Unions strongly opposes the call by finance minister Tito Mboweni to shut down South African Airways (SAA), on the grounds that is is “loss-making” and “unlikely to sort out the situation”.
Once again, an ANC government minister wants workers to pay the price of mismanagement, wasteful expenditure and rampant corruption in a state-owned enterprise, rather than deal with those board members and executives responsible for its financial collapse.
The impact of closing would be catastrophic. SAA employs 10 017 workers in the airline itself and its subsidiaries – SAA Technical, Mango and Air Chefs. Thousands more jobs among support staff employed at airports would be in jeopardy if the airline were to disappear.
Very few would find new jobs in a country which already has almost ten million people with no work, so tens of thousands more families members of the retrenched airline staff would face poverty.
SAFTU demands that the government renounces any such move, which would make a mockery of its commitment at the Jobs Summit to reduce unemployment.
Mboweni’s comment was made to investors in New York, and reflects his capitalist outlook of seeing public entities just in terms profit and loss, rather than their importance to workers, communities and the national economy.
The biggest beneficiaries of SAA’s closure would be Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, which are heavily subsidised by their governments, allegedly to the tune of more than R700 billion in subsidies over the last decade.
These corrupt dictatorships in the Gulf saw the economic value of successful airlines, which have helped their economies grow fast. They saw their subsidies as an investment, rather than a bail-out.
Yet Mboweni, who promises us an economic revival, cannot see the crucial importance of a functioning state-owned national airline if such a revival is to happen, and is prepared to see it collapse.
Should Mboweni’s views prevail in government we shall end up without a national airliner owned and controlled by the state, and be one of the few emerging economies without an airline of our own.
SAA is a strategic state asset not only because of national pride but also because all countries which retain this asset use it to promote international and domestic tourism.
We must not have to depend on private companies who are only motivated by making profits rather than serving the public interest, and will open or close routes with no concern for the consequences to the passengers or the economy.
SAA’s leadership and management must be overhauled, but not just by appointing more directors and executives from the world of business, who will continue run it as if it was a private enterprise.
The airline must be accountable to a board with representatives from the workers, users and government, with a mandate to run a public service, to provide an efficient, safe and affordable service.
SAFTU will fight to save every job at SAA and its subsidiaries, support any action the unions take against job losses and will defend the country’s only state-owned airline.