Unions rip into Air Namibia over salary cuts

Andrew Kathindi

Unions representing Air Namibia employees have hit back at plans by the airline’s management to cut salaries by 50 percent for workers that have not performed work due to its planes being grounded.

According to letter in possession of the Windhoek Observer, Air Namibia Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Theo Mberirua, said the salary cuts have been necessitated by the airlines pre-COVID-19 financial situation and worsened by COVID-19.

This, Mberirua stated, has got to the point that the airline “cannot, at this stage, continue operations without cash flow with which to pay critical creditors.”

“The financial losses incurred by the airline over the previous five financial years have left the airline in a state requiring immediate intervention on all fronts in an effort to change fortunes.”

The CEO argued that the airline needs its cash flow to pay creditors, explaining that non-payment of a supplier “such as Embraer would make it impossible for the airline to re-start domestic operations.”

After briefly reviving domestic travel following the pronouncement of the state of emergency lockdown in March, Air Namibia was again grounded in August after the entire country reverted to stage 3 of the lockdown.

According to an insider who chosen to speak anonymously, employees had an agreement with government three months ago for the full payment of salaries for a period of 12 months, accusing the Air Namibia management and Board for resting on its laurels and allowing problems to escalate.

“Management is directly responsible for failing to bid successfully for charters that were offered to us. These same managers are sitting in the office getting full pay and we are sitting at home, not because we want to but because there’s nothing coming. Management is not delivering.”

The insider further added, “They’re talking about a business plan, but the borders will open soon and there’s nothing happening. So somewhere something is fishy to us and we don’t trust that our management is being truthful. Why not cut across the whole board a smaller percentage? Why not cut management; shouldn’t you lead by example?”

“Other airlines are getting ready to fly to Namibia. We are the national carrier. Why are we not flying? Why are we not part of getting Namibia and the tourism sector back on the road?”

The planned move by Mberirua comes as Finance Minister Iipumbu Shiimi in July stated that it would cost government N$7 billion to implement Air Namibia’s business plan, which he already said is not viable.

Meanwhile Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (NATAU) President John Kwedhi, representing Air Namibia ground staff, told the Windhoek Observer that his union is currently in consultations on its next move.

“NATAU has not received any official letter from Air Namibia. We were awaiting for the management to send an official invitation to engage each other to see how many people are affected and how they’re affected by the move,” he added that a lack of consultations to cut salaries is un-procedural.

“What they’ve released does not bind NATAU and its members. We will not be bound by those decisions, until a fair and transparent process takes place.”

President of the Namibia Cabin Crew Union (NCCU), Reginald Kock also echoed these sentiments, stating that the decision to cut salaries was made without proper consultation and agreement with all relevant unions.

“Cutting the salary of low-level employees won’t save Air Namibia. You cut the salary of someone who earns N$4,500 – they haven’t even considered the kind of psychological impact that this could have on employees,” Kock told Windhoek Observer.

Kock stated that a follow-up meeting was supposed to be held after the unions had an opportunity to study information it had requested from the airliner, including the financial position of the company, the salary structure of the company and the post lockdown operational plan.

Mberirua stated that Air Namibia would not divulge the information requested by the unions as it would compromise their post-lockdown recovery plan.

“It was expected that the unions would propose alternative cost containment measures rather than cutting salaries of employees. The unions had various meetings with the Ministerial Committee of Treasury, led by Minister Shimii to discuss the future of the airline and the employees of the airline. It was during one such meeting that assurance was given by the committee that workers will not take the blame for the non-operation of the airline,” stated Kock.

He added, “It is clear to us that the interim CEO and his management team have declared war on the workers.”

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