SA Express will not be able to pay salaries for April unless
it obtains financial support from the Covid-19 Unemployment ‌Insurance Fund or
the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme overseen by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration*, according to the state-owned
regional airline’s business rescue practitioners.

There has been no outcome, as yet, to a similar application
for money to pay the March salaries.

A letter addressed to stakeholders indicates that the BRPs
have applied for funding from the UIF in order to be able to pay the April
salaries.

“This is so frustrating and depressing. We feel there
is a lack of formal communication with us. First it was the March salary and
not April’s. How must we live?” an airline employee said on condition of anonymity.

SA Express was forced into business rescue by the South
Gauteng High Court in accordance with the Companies Act on 6 February 2020. Transport
and logistics company Ziegler SA applied to have the airline placed under
business rescue in January, saying it is owed R11 million
. SA Express
disputes the procurement processes involved with the company.

SA Express was placed under business rescue due to financial
pressures that resulted from years of poor management and state capture, the
Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) previously said.

According to the BRPs, SA Express is facing “a myriad
of financial and operational challenges”. These include “the adverse
operational challenges that the company faced in the last months, exacerbated
by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the domestic and global airline
industry”.

The BRPs say these have affected the airline’s ability to
generate any revenue to fund critical operational expenses as they became due.
The challenge to generate cash was further increased by the suspension of
operations on 19 March 2020. “Non-critical” staff were placed on
compulsory leave.

The BRPs even brought a court application against the DPE
towards the end of March to have the airline provisionally liquidated, claiming
that the department had not yet agreed to pay R350 million required to save the
airline.

The department later said it would determine its course of
action after studying the liquidation application.

In a statement, the department said that allegations by the
BRPs that the government deliberately withheld financial support from them, and
that the state’s approach to the business rescue process was unconstructive, were
baseless.

The DPE said a long-term business rescue plan needed to take
into consideration the commercial viability of the airline “in a
competitive and volatile South African aviation sector”.

The state has provided more than R1.2 billion in urgent
financial support to SAX for the 2019/20 financial year, including R300 million
released last October. Before SA Express was placed in business rescue,
government mandated the board and management to investigate and terminate a
number of irregular contracts as a way to save money and root out corruption.

* The TERS scheme overseen by the CCMA is intended to help companies in distress avoid retrenchments. Introduced in 2019, it is distinct from the coronavirus relief scheme. 

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