South Africa’s government is pressing unions to avert a collapse of South African Airways and ensure that the business rescue strategy results in the emergence of a more competitive carrier.

It has asked unions to submit proposals on restructuring the carrier and, in particular, details on the future of jobs.

The unions have conceded that some jobs must be lost, says the department for public enterprises, if SAA is to become a stronger operation.

With the future of the airline – which had already been undergoing a business rescue process before the coronavirus crisis – looking particularly bleak, the department held a 21 April meeting with unions and other government representatives to outline the situation.

The government stressed during the meeting that it was “not in a position” to provide more capital to SAA, and that all parties needed to “commit to a creative solution” in order to “avoid a scenario where the business rescue is deemed to have failed”.

“There was consensus that unions would work with the government to ensure that a new financially-viable and competitive airline emerges from the business rescue process,” the department of public enterprises says.

Consultation forums will be set up to discuss the details of managing the personnel situation.

“Employees that remain behind will need to sacrifice some of the unaffordable arrangements that had worsened the airline’s financial position,” the department states, adding that unions understood this point.

Social plans, it adds, will be developed to “cushion the effects of losing jobs” for those SAA staff members affected.

SAA’s business rescue practitioners will be briefed and encouraged to take account of the “constructive development” with the unions, it says.