Samahani, lakini nashindwa kuelewa sababu ya Air Tanzania kuwa na wafanyakazi zaidi ya 300 wakati wana ndege mbili tu! Kuna efficiency hapo kweli?
9th October 2009
After over a week of dead silence, the Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) management came out of its shell yesterday to confirm exclusive reports published by The Guardian about plans by the firm to retrench at least half its workforce.
Chief executive officer William Haji budged to pressure from journalists who had camped at the company’s offices in Dar es Salaam and swiftly called a news conference at which he shed light on the saga over the layoff plans.
He was forced to adjourn a meeting with representatives of the ATCL branch of the Communication and Transport Workers’ Union (Cotwu) on reports reaching this paper on Wednesday that it was likely that 181 workers lined up for retrenchment would be issued with “termination of services” letters yesterday.
In a statement, his first official response to the media inquiries since The Guardian broke the news about the retrenchment plan last week, CEO Haji said the issuance of the letters wasn’t possible yesterday “because the management and representatives of the trade union (Cotwu) are still finalising deliberations on a few important things that are still pending”.
He said issues on which agreement had not been reached by yesterday afternoon included details on terminal packages and the exact number of workers to be offloaded.
“It is true that there is an ongoing restructuring process at ATCL which will see some members of the workforce retrenched. The aim is to remain with reasonable team of staff which will make the airline perform more efficiently,” added a highly co-operative CEO Haji.
He was emphatic that the layoffs were inevitable and would touch practically the entire company, and hoped all those on whom the axe would fall would take things in their stride.
Haji resisted all attempts to draw him into giving the exact number of workers to be served with retrenchment letters, only saying: “The restructuring exercise seeks to make the company remain with only a reasonable number of employees…It is just one of several measures aimed at cutting operational costs.”
He was quick to add that the restructuring would follow the rules, regulations and guidelines stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
He said retrenchment exercises usually require huge amount of money in terminal benefits for those affected, adding: “This touches people’s lives and so the way the exercises are carried out means one must be especially keen to avoid needless harm to those retrenched. Besides, there are legal technicalities that must be considered.”
The ATCL chief also explained that it was evident that the airline stood to benefit from restructuring “since the size of our workforce doesn’t match with our operations”.
The cash-strapped airline currently operates only two Dash-8 Bombardier aircrafts, but it is understood to have a 337-strong workforce.
It other two planes - a Boeing 737 and a leased 150-seater Airbus (A320) - are undergoing a mandatory ‘C’ check maintenance in Mozambique and France, respectively.
According to the CEO, the layoffs were coming at an especially awkward time “because we have only 14 qualified pilots and licensed aircraft engineers, when the minimum needed for a two-aircraft fleet is 18 pilots”.
“Still, this should not be taken to mean that there is any sector or department that will not be touched by the job cut exercise,” he warned.
Authoritative sources within ATCL intimated to this paper earlier this week that the firm would “bid farewell” to more than half its workers in an impending layoff exercise.
Meanwhile, an enraged woman who vaguely identified herself as an ATCL employee, yesterday morning called the editor of this paper on his mobile phone swearing that The Guardian was peddling untruths about what was going on at the airline “and you will end up disgraced because no ATCL employee is being laid off and no retrenchment letter will be issued”.
Her surprise call came just hours before her CEO called the media to confirm the reports. Efforts to contact her by phone later in the day through the number she had used failed.
Scores of well-placed sources within the company, including senior pilots and junior staff who have repeatedly talked to this paper separately, said they knew their days at ATCL were over and they were just waiting for official notification to confirm their worst fears.
They said the decision to proceed with the staff ‘pruning’ exercise was reached late Tuesday after a daylong consultative meeting in Dar es Salaam between the ATCL management and officials from the firm’s parent ministry - Infrastructure Development.
The state-run airline is surviving on government subsidy, and sources say the downsizing of the workforce was the least painful way to save on unnecessary expenditure and help it possibly run off life support.
The exercise was earlier planned for October 1 (Thursday last week) but the company’s top officials and trade union representatives were still locked in an extended meeting for about a week because there were still “certain unresolved disagreements.”
Sources close to representatives attending the closed-door talks said the meeting this week was aimed at keeping the dialogue going after formal talks on retrenchment plans ended prematurely on Friday last week.
The formal talks, the sources said, were due to be followed by a meeting between ATCL workers and their management.
Should the layoff plan materialise, meaning that 181 workers will lose jobs, ATCL will remain with a staff of only 150.
In January this year, the government rescued the national flag carrier from financial doldrums with the disbursement of a second bailout package to the tune of 4.5bn/-.
The firm has experienced a series of problems since its marriage with “strategic investor” South African Airline (SAA) collapsed in 2006.
The problems included the December 8, 2008 decision by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) to revoke the new-look airline’s Air Operating Certificate over faulty documentation.
TCAA imposed the ban after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) threatened to rate Tanzania as not airworthy.
The airline fulfilled TCAA’s requirements three weeks later (December 30) and its planes were allowed to start flying again. However, financial difficulties made it impossible for the flights to actually resume.
Just recently, well-placed sources intimated to The Guardian that ATCL was currently being investigated in connection with the reported purchase of more than 15 posh vehicles despite the crippling financial problems it was facing.
The sources said the four-wheel-drive vehicles were bought with money forming part of the rescue package the corporation has been receiving from the government.
It is reported that the vehicles cost over 2bn/- and that the decision to buy them was made by the firm’s management and endorsed by the board of directors.
ATCL, formerly Air Tanzania Corporation (ATC), was established in March 1977 after the collapse of East African Airways and other regional institutions previously under the ill-fated first-phase East African Community.
ATC was taken over by SAA in 2002 and renamed ATCL, before the government reclaimed all its shares in the firm four years later.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN