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‘You have never tasted a real man’: SA Airlink in sexual harassment storm

2018-09-17 00:19

Private airline SA Airlink has found itself in a sexual harassment storm after a senior pilot was accused of sexually harassing a staffer, who was subsequently fired for alleged damage to property.

*Rethabile, a married flight attendant who has been with the airline for four years, was allegedly sexually harassed by the SA Airlink pilot during a trip to Ascension Island on July 23.

Rethabile, who is married to a woman, said in an affidavit she made at the OR Tambo Police Station two weeks after the incident that the pilot approached her during a stopover in St Helena and made unwelcomed sexual advances.

“He stated that I am lesbian because I have never had a taste of a real man and he wants to show me what a real man is,” she said in the affidavit, seen by City Press.

The affidavit also stated that should anything happen to her after attending a hearing at Airlink offices where she was going to divulge details of the sexual harassment the pilot should be the first suspect.

In her statement made to the company when lodging the complaint, Rethabile detailed how, during the stopover, the pilot found her seated in one of the front seats, minding her own business.

He started a conversation with her, unzipped his pants, took out his penis and that was when she walked away.

She told Airlink the pilot liked her and wanted to be with her but she told him he was old enough to be her father, unconsciously inscribing her father’s surname on the leather seat with her finger.

He persisted and allegedly even unzipped his pants and took out his penis after which she stood up and left her station at the back of the plane, forgetting to wipe off the scribbling on the seat.

Although she later wiped off the seat – a picture of which City Press has seen – she was eventually fired for it after the pilot reported her for “vandalising the aircraft”.

The complaint statement, confirmed by Rethabile, also stated that on landing in Ascension Island, the pilot again paid her an unwelcome visit, at the hotel at about 11pm.

“When I opened the door it was him and I asked him what is wrong? What are you doing here? He said: ‘I told you I want to show you what a real man is.’ I was upset and said to him that if this is what he did to other flight attendants on night stops then I am not that kind of flight attendant. I am going to report this. I closed the door and locked it.”

Rethabile did not report the matter until after the pilot reported her for the writing on the seat.

In her statement she said that she was going to report the matter when she arrived back in Johannesburg but was served with a suspension letter after the pilot instructed her fellow flight attendants to write a report about the seat, despite the writing having been wiped off and there being no evidence of vandalism.

A source close to the matter said Rethabile did not open a criminal case because, according to the company policy, an attempt should be made to resolve matters internally first.

Owner and chief executive of SA Airlink Rodger Foster opted not to respond to the list of questions sent about the matter but said the company strove to deal with all staff grievances fairly and through just and impartial processes.

“Matters between Airlink and its employees are confidential but, as an airline and a responsible employer, the wellbeing of our staff and our customers, as well as the safety and reliability of our aircraft, are our primary concerns,” Forster said.

He said Airlink had a zero-tolerance approach to serious breaches, such as the vandalism of aircraft or aircraft components because these could have safety, operational and financial implications.

He kept mum about an alleged sexual harassment track record in the company which, according to a highly placed employee, was often swept under the carpet.

The source also said there had been at least two incidents in the past three years, none of which saw the light of day despite being reported.

He did say: “Airlink takes an equally firm line on sexual harassment and we encourage our staff members to report such incidents so they can be dealt with expeditiously and appropriately through a clearly defined process. As a responsible employer, Airlink holds regular staff forums to promote mutual respect and understanding among employees, including sensitising staff to any form of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, alienation or other harmful and unwelcome conduct.

“In line with labour law best practices Airlink strives to deal with all staff grievances fairly and through just and impartial processes, led by independent presiding officers,” Forster said.

SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union spokesperson Zanele Sabela said the union was aware of the matter and was representing Rethabile against the company. “We have referred both matters to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration]. The unfair dismissal matter has been set down for September 19 but the sexual harassment hearing is yet to be set down,” Sabela said.

*Not her real name

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October 13 2019