National carrier South African Airways (SAA) said on Wednesday that safety was non-negotiable and that no pressure would be exerted on its maintenance unit, SAA Technical (SAAT) staff, to take shortcuts in their work, or release any incomplete aircraft to repair.

This was in response to a statement issued by trade union Solidarity on Tuesday, in which the union said an opinion poll conducted among 110 employees of SAAT had shown that more than 90% of those employees wanted to resign, and that morale among these employees was low.

The union warned that this could lead to an exodus of skilled employees and have an effect on airline safety.

“SAAT remains committed to ensuring the airworthiness of all its customers’ aircraft and the safety of all flying customers,” commented SAAT CEO Clive Else.

The company also stated that it had started an internal employee satisfaction survey among employees, and that, to date, less than 7% of SAA employees and less than 5% of SAAT had participated in the survey, which meant the outcome of the survey could not yet be determined as it was still in progress.

Meanwhile, the airline said that SAAT had embarked on a targeted recruitment drive.

“To ensure a constant flow of technical staff into the future, SAAT has increased the capacity of its apprentice training programme. SAAT will also increase the capacity for post-apprenticeship training to replace lost technical skills,” said Else.

Else also confirmed that SAAT had employed contract workers from the UK, but said this was only for a short-term project related to a final pre-delivery check of an aircraft. The contract-workers would depart within the week.

Solidarity said it was dissatisfied with SAAT after the company had appointed 20 British aviation technicians on a contract basis at much higher salary rates than those paid to local technicians, who the union said, were still being paid below international salary standards.

Elise concluded that the salaries of SAAT technicians were in line with South African industry norms.