South African Airways, unions in talks amid strike

A South African Airways (SAA) aircraft is seen parked on the tarmac at Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa, November 14, 2019. REUTERS
Workers of South African Airways (SAA) hold placards during a strike over wages and job cuts at SAA headquarters in Kempton Park, South Africa, November 15, 2019./REUTERS

South African Airways (SAA) and unions met on Saturday for talks about the troubled national career with hopes of bringing an end to a crippling strike that it says could push it to collapse.

Unions representing more than half of SAA’s workforce called the strike on Friday, forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights, and said it would continue until their demands were met.

The airline said the action would cost it 50 million rand ($3.36 million) per day.

The talks will be mediated by dispute resolution body The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The unions’ demands include an 8% wage increase, and they also object to SAA’s plan to cut over 900 jobs.

SAA, which hasn’t made a profit since 2011, needs to cut costs to turn around – a mammoth task complicated by the huge sensitivity of job cuts in a country where unemployment is already close to 30%.

Workers say they shouldn’t be left holding the can for years of management failures and poor governance.

Phakamile Hlubi Majola, spokeswoman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), one of the unions that called the strike, said they also want SAA to commit to bringing costly outsourced services back in house, which are blowing a substantial hole in SAA’s budget.

Flight information display showing the cancelled flights is seen as South African Airways (SAA) workers downed tools on Friday./REUTERS

While it expects some international flights to restart from Sunday, SAA extended its cancellations for national and regional flights into Monday. The unions rejected SAA’s most recent wage offer late on Thursday.