16 January 2013

Namibia: Air Namibia Woes Intensify

AIR Namibia's management had to put out fires yesterday after cabin crew members dished more dirt about the airline's financial woes.

According to two cabin crew members, they have not been receiving any subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances when working in Namibia and Southern Africa for the past month and a half.

They also charged that, since the weekend, their S&T when travelling abroad has been slashed by 50%.

The airline's spokesperson, Paul Nakawa, rubbished these allegations, saying it is "not true at all".

Nakawa said they accommodate their cabin crew in various accommodation establishments in the different towns and cities where they operate.

"Room rates are paid as per terms and conditions of the agreements that exist between the parties. On top of this, our crew are paid their S&T allowances in timely fashion for their meals and other necessities, as per company policies when they are away on duty."

Had they not been compensated, "they were expected to register their grievances through the right and correct procedures at their disposal and within the company. We have an open-door policy within Air Namibia and as management, our employees are our great assets. Hence we attend swiftly to matters that may pose direct negative effects to their performances as these ones."

Another allegation which the cabin crew members made was that the hotel where they stay over in Frankfurt, Germany, has informed the airline to pay its outstanding debt or face the consequences.

About this, Nakawa said: "We never received any notice of cancellation due to unpaid bills. Our crew are not on the street in Frankfurt, so such allegation is unfounded."

Equally, the spokesperson denied that they have an overdue account of N$5 million at a caterer in the German city.

According to him, they settle their bill with the caterer on a monthly basis.

Also, he said, the monthly account does not amount to N$5 million. "As a company which is governed by integrity, we do not respond to questions that are subjective and hold no truth. Air Namibia distances itself from speculations and it doesn't discuss matters such as this with third parties."

Staff members were further up in arms, because they say management is buying new furniture despite the airline's financial trouble.

Nakawa accused the staff members of ignorance. "It is a pity that, if your sources are part of Air Namibia, they are not well informed. They are ignorant to what is happening at the company, and rather concentrate on issues that are not building their careers, neither taking the company they have chosen to work for anywhere."

He admitted that they had bought new furniture but said it was to replace damaged furniture. "Yes, we replaced our furniture which got damaged during August 2012. Our building at Dr W Külz Street was flooded due to a burst fire hydrant pipe, and the furniture got damaged."

According to him, their insurance company footed this bill. "A claim to the insurance was made, and the furniture in question was bought and paid by our insurance company from the claim submitted, to replace the damaged furniture."

Nakawa did however admit that Air Namibia finds itself in a financial pinch. "Such a situation is not only unique to Air Namibia, it is common with any airline company. We are running this serious business in a volatile industry."

He said their sales during the last quarter of 2012 had declined - mainly due to labour issues.

"First, it was threats of a strike from NATAU [Namibia Transport and Allied Workers' Union] from September 2012, which was resolved in October 2012. The strike was averted at the eleventh hour. Then in November 2012 the pilot strike took effect."

This strike resulted in the travelling public, both in the domestic market and outside Namibia, avoiding booking with Air Namibia because of the uncertainty, he said.

Also, they had to pay out "lots of money to other airlines for transporting our passengers and for hotel bills for affected passengers".

They are in arrears with "a number of suppliers," he said. "Arrangements are being made on how to get back to normal again. We are doing all we can to rectify the situation."

Yesterday, it was reported that the airline has stopped refuelling with Engen Namibia because of an unpaid bill. As a result, the airline is refuelling in Luanda, Angola.

Erkki Nghimtina, the minister of works and transport, on Monday said that Government may lose sympathy for Air Namibia should the airline not scale down its operations to cut costs.

The airline has received around N$1,3 billion in bail outs over the last 10 years from the Government to acquire new aircraft, for maintenance services and fuel subsidies.

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