Friday, February 10, 2012

Transport Minister Nicholas Goche: Air Zim must reduce bloated workforce

THE government will take over Air Zimbabwe’s US$149 million debt but the struggling airline must drastically reduce its 1,400-strong workforce in order to return to viability, Transport Minister Nicholas Goche has said.

Air Zimbabwe teeters on the brink of collapse, hamstrung by massive debts, unsustainable staffing levels and ageing aircraft at a time the government lacks the resources to recapitalise its operations.

But in an interview with the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper Friday, Goche said Treasury would “warehouse” the airline’s debt as part of a rescue plan for the stricken company.

Air Zimbabwe owes foreign creditors about US$30 million and another US$119 million to various local institutions including the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) and state pensions entity, Nssa.

Goche said the government would take over the debts but insisted that Air Zimbabwe needs to carry out an extensive retrenchment exercise.

“Air Zimbabwe has a bloated workforce of about 1,400 employees against an ageing equipment and operational assets. The equipment is old and faces breakdown, revenue earned through this equipment does not match the expenditure levels of Air Zimbabwe,” the minister said.

“Therefore, there is a compelling need for retrenchment since Air Zimbabwe is always having a huge deficit. There is need for a retrenchment exercise, starting with those that have agreed to be retrenched.

“These now stand at 94 employees requiring almost $4,2 million. A total retrenchment for phase 1 is estimated at $11.5 million.”

Goche also dismissed speculation that President Robert Mugabe’s numerous foreign trips for which he uses Air Zimbabwe aircraft were also responsible for the company’s problems.

“There is no government minister or official that owes Air Zimbabwe anything. There is nothing like that; all government officials were paying for their flights,” he said.

“Those who allege that ministers or other officials owe Air Zimbabwe are using that as a euphemism to try to refer to the office of the President and Cabinet.

“However, it should be noted that the chartered flights by the president have always been fully paid for in advance, thereby contributing significantly to Air Zimbabwe’s revenue.”

Goche said talks to secure a technical partner for Air Zimbabwe are continuing despite recent reports that negotiations with a Chinese airline had collapsed.

He said the prospective partner would help reequip the airline replacing the three aged Boeing 737-200 planes used on domestic and regional routes as well as add to Air Zimbabwe’s long-haul complement of two Boeing 767-200 aircraft.

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