Air Zimbabwe pilot strike continues

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The Air Zimbabwe pilots’ strike entered its sixth day yesterday as crew at the debt-ridden carrier continued to demand outstanding salaries and allowances owed to them. It does not appear as if the strike will end soon as management says it cannot afford to pay its pilots.

Airline chief executive Innocent Mavhunga said negotiations with the striking pilots and cabin crew had broken down. “We haven’t resolved the impasse because we haven’t been able to get the money. They are saying they want the money first before going back to work.” He said that the airline has not paid its staff June and July salaries, amongst other arrears. He said he was not at liberty to say how much staff are owed, but pilots are apparently asking for US$200 000 before they will resume work.
“The strike still continues, we had a meeting with the pilots, but they have turned down our offer. We asked them to go back to work while we look for their money,” Mavhunga said on Tuesday.

Air Zimbabwe was just rebounding from its previous crises, including a fleet grounding and nearly month long strike. “We have lost a lot of business during this strike and all our international as regional routes to London and Johannesburg were fully booked,” Mavhunga told the Zimbabwean Daily News. “This strike comes at a time when we had recovered and we had regained our routes but unfortunately this strike draws us back.”

Air Zimbabwe board chairperson Jonathan Kadzura told NewsDay yesterday that the strike was costing the airline US$100 000 a day.
“It’s an unfortunate incident. The strike affects a lot of people and there is nothing much that can be done when the pilots are not working,” Kadzura said, adding that Air Zimbabwe was still negotiating with the pilots to call off the strike and resume normal duties.

According to the Daily News, Air Zimbabwe employs 49 pilots, a number seen as too many for an airline of its size – it only has half a dozen aircraft.

After Air Zimbabwe’s pilots went on strike on Friday, the flag carrier’s operations ground to a halt. However, only the pilots went on strike as all other staff were at work.

Air Zimbabwe operates a daily Harare-Johannesburg route, a twice-weekly flight to London and a weekly flight to Beijing as its only international routes. All flights from Harare International Airport were suspended due to the strike while Air Zimbabwe re-scheduled some other flights, including the Harare-Beijing route.

The strike affecting Air Zimbabwe is just one of many crises to hit the cash-strapped state owned airline.

In mid-June, Air Zimbabwe cancelled flights to London and South Africa after fuel suppliers demanded up front cash payments until the carrier settled its debts. Apparently, the carrier owed US$1.6 million to fuel suppliers.
“We had no option besides to cancel the London flights because suppliers refused to give us fuel for the trip,” an Air Zimbabwe manager told AFP on condition that he was not named.

From May 18 Air Zimbabwe’s flights came to a halt for a week as the aircraft it was leasing from Zambezi Airlines was withdrawn over an unpaid US$460 000 debt. In March Air Zimbabwe leased a Boeing 737-500 from Zambia’s Zambezi Airlines.

On May 15 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suspended Air Zimbabwe from flight booking services as Air Zimbabwe had not paid US$280 000 of the debt it owes the organisation. Air Zimbabwe continued flying, using its own booking facilities. More than 50 percent of the airline’s customers book through travel agents.

Air Zimbabwe is crippled with more than US$100 million of debt, some of it accrued from a nearly month long strike between March 22 and April 20. Pilots were protesting unpaid salaries and allowances dating back to February last year, amounting to approximately US$9 million. The strike was resolved when the government bailed out the carrier – something it may have to do to resolve the current impasse.