Government intervenes in Air Zimbabwe strike


The government of Zimbabwe has intervened in the Air Zimbabwe strike by paying US$430 000 to the airline’s employees, halting the attachment of Air Zimbabwe property by the Deputy Sheriff. However, there is still no clear end to the strike that is heading into its third week.

409 workers, who were earmarked for retrenchment in 2009, according to Bulawayo24 News, won a court battle to have their outstanding November and December 2009 salaries paid to them. Air Zimbabwe appealed the court ruling. However, the airline lost its appeal and the Deputy Sheriff began attaching property on Friday, including 25 buses and cars as well as computers, Radio Voice of the People reports.

As Air Zimbabwe is a parastatal, the government then intervened to prevent the seized assets from being auctioned off to the detriment of the airline. “As Government, we have paid the US$430 that Air Zimbabwe owed its workers. We acted on the matter after being briefed of the situation by the Air Zimbabwe management,” Transport, Communication and Infrastructural Development Minister Nicholas Goche said.

Jonathan Kadzura, Air Zimbabwe Board Chairman, confirmed the government’s intervention but said the industrial action by pilots is still unresolved.

Air Zimbabwe pilots went on strike in September last year in an effort to get arrears paid, but they only received a fraction of what they were owed. Continued dissatisfaction resulted in pilots, engineers and cabin staff beginning another strike on March 23. Pilots say they are owed US$400 000 in unpaid salaries and allowances, New Zimbabwe reports, but further pay demands could push the bill up to more than US$9 million.
“The pilots were not getting full salaries since February 2009 after they had entered into an agreement with management that these were to be paid later as Air Zimbabwe was facing serious cash-flow problems,” a senior member of the Zimbabwe National Air Workers’ Union told The Herald.

Air Zimbabwe is in dire financial straits and its monthly losses are now amounting to US$3.4 million, according to documents obtained by The Herald. Towards the end of last year the airline was losing an average of US$2.5 million a month. It has around US$94 million of debt.

The first flights to be affected by the strike were domestic and regional flights but the lucrative Harare-London route was cancelled last week Wednesday, leaving passengers stranded in Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom. However, Air Zimbabwe contracted Zambezi Airlines to serve its Harare-Johannesburg route. Transferring passengers to other carriers has cost Air Zimbabwe US$2 million in potential revenue, according to Radio Voice of the People.

Air Zimbabwe has pulled out of 18 of its 25 routes and reduced the number of flights per week. While the carrier reduces the number of routes it flies, foreign carriers have been taking over these routes.

Statistics contained in a 2009 report entitled Tourism Trends and Statistics, produced by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, indicate that five of the major airlines serving Zimbabwe (Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, British Airways/Comair, Air Namibia and South African Airlink) take up 93% of the airline market share in the country. The three South African operators take up 87% of the market.