South African Express (XZ, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) is looking to effect a reduction in headcount in a bid to improve the state-owned carrier's operational and financial efficiency.

According to company documents seen by City Press, acting chief executive Siza Mzimela said in a January presentation to SA Express's remuneration and human resources transformation committee that its staff-to-aircraft ratio, which stood at 82:1 (822 employees for 10 active aircraft namely three CRJ200s, two CRJ700s, and five Dash 8-400s) at the time, was actually geared to a pre-grounding fleet of 22 aircraft but even with plans to return five more to service by year-end, the numbers would still not tally. Therefore, SA Express would have to undertake job cuts if it wanted to compete with the likes of Airlink (South Africa) (4Z, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), whose ratio stands at 24:1.

“SA Express is not competitive in the market place and not optimally operating in regard to its income generation. To ensure operational efficiency, improved service delivery and profitability, redundancies and duplication must be identified and addressed,” she said.

Among the options mentioned include freezing the filling of vacancies for other than those pre-approved critical positions. It may also close offices in cities where SA Express does not fly, such as George, Richards Bay, and Durban. It will also offer staff voluntary severance packages but will attempt to keep skilled, competent and performing employees. If this fails, the airline would then terminate employees in the corporate services department due to operational requirements.

Local unions were also to be consulted over the retrenchment process.

A final decision on how many staff would be cut would only be made once a definitive headcount had been conducted and once the financial implications had been ascertained.