A passenger is seen at the South African Airways (SAA) customer desk, after SAA announced that it would immediately suspend all intercontinental flights until May 31 in response to a government travel ban aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South African Airways could start shedding its 5,000 staff from May 12 if unions and workers do not accept a proposed severance deal, administrators trying to rescue the airline said on Sunday.

SAA entered a local form of bankruptcy protection in December in a last ditch effort to either save or liquidate the national carrier, which has not turned a profit since 2011.

The airline has been on state life support that has cost the South African Treasury more than 20 billion rand ($1.06 billion) over the past three years.

Rescue specialists Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana last month proposed severance packages for all staff, after the government said SAA would receive no more cash.

But the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Cabin Crew Association, went to a labour court to try to block the cuts.


“In the event that labour do not accept the agreement, the BRPs (business rescue practitioners) reserve their rights to offer (it) … to all employees, regardless whether they belong to a union or not, for individual acceptance,” between May 8 and May 11, the letter to staff reviewed by Reuters said.

“Where agreements have not been reached, … those employees’ employment may be terminated for operational reasons on or after 12 May,” it added.

South Africa’s public enterprises ministry still wants to salvage a rump of SAA in some form or other, although since the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the global airline industry, it is not clear what that would amount to.

The rescue specialists added that they would oppose the application by the two unions in court because “if successful, it would further contribute to the financial and other challenges that SAA is facing.”

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