Fix it or get the hell out, union tells Comair CEO

Fix it or get the hell out, union tells Comair CEO

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has accused Comair chief executive Glenn Orsmond of compromising on safety by cost-cutting.

The union was staging a protest in front of Comair’s Kempton Park headquarters on Tuesday about what it called the “don’t care attitude” of management towards staff and passengers.

Placards and chants demanded Orsmond “must go!” Comair brands British Airways and Kulula.com remain grounded by civil aviation authorities for gaps in their quality control and safety management systems. According to sources, Comair’s management is frantically working towards compliance. Another source said yesterday the airlines would likely only fly again next week, if at all.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola led the charge.

“This is a glaring failure of leadership and the man [Orsmond] must go. “They must replace him with somebody who has a desire to turn the business around and restore its reputation, so that people can get to get back to work.”

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A Solidarity staff survey presented to the Comair board last December showed 48% of staff had no faith in management, while 78% of staff said quality and improvement at Comair did not seem to be a top priority in the business. Nearly 60% said they did not understand the company’s strategy.

Netnographer Carmen Murray looked at the online and social discourse trends and noted the company had severely damaged its reputation. She said: “In the wake of SAA’s [SA Airways] business rescue, the exit of SA Express and Mango, and now the Comair turmoil, public confidence in South African aviation is waning, fast.” Murray added Kulula and Comair would take a substantial amount of time to recover.

“It takes years to build a reputation but a single incident, badly managed, can take a brand back to square one,” Murray said.

Even if BA and Kulula returned to the skies, the public might be hesitant to travel on the two brands.

“Following the grounding and a reprise of some of the safety-related incidents, there has been a marked interest in terms relating to Kulula aircraft, for example.”

Murray said it’s a clear breakout conversation from the usual customer service, or lack thereof, conversations. She suggested it could be related to traveller comfort about the airline’s fleet.

Hlubi-Majola lashed out at Orsmond, saying: “So what we’re saying is if your strategy to turn Comair around and your cost cutting actually compromises safety, then you’ll start to dissipate the business.”

She challenged Orsmond to fix the organisation or “get the hell out!” Stephen Forbes of Comair’s public relations company declined to comment directly on the protest and opposition against Orsmond.

“Our focus is to have our air operators’ certificate reinstated so our scheduled operations can resume,” he said.

“This is in the best interests of our employees, the flying public, and the aviation sector.

“We are immensely grateful for the support the unions are providing in helping to achieve this.”

But labour feels the company under Orsmond’s leadership is not bent on saving the business and that the grounding should never have happened. Hlubi-Majola said: “Civil aviation has made it clear that they will not allow Comair to operate until all the issues are resolved. And we want passengers and staff to enjoy a safe environment.

“How can he explain the rationale for business rescue that seems to never end.

“This, while staff have to endure pay cuts and another potential swathe of retrenchments while the business rescue practitioners are earning in excess of R1 million every month in fees.”

Comair has almost completed its second year in bankruptcy protection, spending longer in administration than SAA.

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