Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) is rehiring some of its staff members whose contracts were terminated on Tuesday under a retrenchment exercise, the Financial Gazette has established, as the precipitous move wreaked havoc with the airline's operations.
Citing "huge financial challenges," the airline cut 200 jobs this week, reducing its workforce by half.
The decision immediately affected operations, with the Harare-Bulawayo flight failing to take off on Wednesday morning.
AirZim board chairman, Chipo Dyanda, confirmed that the airline was taking back some staff it had laid off on Tuesday, saying they were now "reorienting employees to the new organisational culture and business model."
"This is a relocation of employees to the right positions for those who were sitting in positions not commensurate with their skills and expertise. This is a process that will continue until we are satisfied we have done the best we could," Dyanda said.
Senior AirZim staffers said the airline had rushed to retrench without looking at how this would affect operations.
"They even fired people who prepare payments, only to realise that operations have been crippled with no one to process payments and they are now trying to bring back some of them," said a senior AirZim executive, who refused to be named.
Indications are that the board had ignored a blueprint produced three years ago by Ernst & Young (EY) Consultancy and had engaged an unnamed lawyer who recommended the retrenchment.
EY was hired by government to advise on revival of the airline.
"They had before them professional advice from EY, but they ignored it. They used a lawyer instead. The problem is that the entire board does not understand the aviation business. Most departments have been paralysed and flights may be grounded," said the source.
Information gathered by the Financial Gazette suggests that there was a complete clean out in the marketing department, which was left with no employee while only six remained in the critical finance department instead of 17.
It also emerged yesterday that the retrenchment has severely affected AiZim's chances of being readmitted into the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
It was deregistered by the global aviation safety organisation in November last year after it failed to comply with international safety regulations.
According to information at hand, the purges have come at a time when the airline was due for IATA International Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), with all the groundwork for the audit having been completed.
IATA auditors, sources said, were due in Harare next month. IOSA is the benchmark for global safety management in airlines.
"The Airline is due for an IOSA audit, yet some of the people involved have been sent home. There are certain positions which should have been maintained if AirZim was to be readmitted into IATA and this was not considered. This retrenchment was an arbitrary exercise done without any strategic formula. If the airline is not back in IATA by November, the Civil Aviation Authority will have to shut it down. There is no time and you get rid of staff that would make you succeed in IOSA," said an AirZim executive.
Dyanda, however, defended her board's decisions, saying they were focussed on the viability and profitability of the national carrier.
"The board and management decisions were professional and strategic for the revival of the airline. This airline is due for revival and this restructuring is one of the cornerstones of this revival. Retrenchment is one of the results of restructuring," she said.
She also defended the decision to dump the EY blueprint saying it was not a solution to all challenges the airline faces.
"We refer to it together with many documents and policies that have searched and continue to search for solutions to revive the airline. We can only take those ideas that are relevant and consistent with the issues at hand. It is part and parcel of contributions to a search of solutions, but does not fit everywhere, every challenge or direction," she said.
She also said funds for the retrenchment had been secured, but declined to disclose the source and amount.