JOHANNESBURG: South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.
The country’s embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand (US$3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday – forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.
Talks with the two unions representing the striking workers ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.
“In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers’ union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation,” NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters outside the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.
NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.
Initial talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting the unions to press on with their threats.
SAA is offering a 5.9% pay rise, while unions are demanding an 8% across-the-board hike and a three-year guarantee of job security.
They are also asking the airline to in-source more jobs.
“We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation,” Hlubi-Majola told journalists.
She said discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa’s airport management company and airline service providers were under way.
Two transport unions have also been called on to join the action.
“This secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector,” NUMSA and SACCA said in a joint statement.
SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia voiced “concern” about the unions’ intentions and urged them to “reconsider”.
“The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy,” Ramasia said in a statement on Sunday.
The CEO added that SAA could not “afford to pay any salary increases” and reiterated the 5.9% rise offer.
“The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company,” Ramasia said.
More than 300 SAA flights have been grounded as a result of the open-ended strike.
International flights started slowly resuming on Sunday, while regional and domestic flights remain grounded.
“We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control,” Ramasia said.
South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.
SAA – one of Africa’s biggest airlines – is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company’s 9.2 billion rand (US$620 million) debt over the next three years.
Ramasia said discussions with unions would resume once the airline had considered “options on the way forward”.