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SAA losing R52 million a day as unions and airline remain deadlocked

Nov 15 2019 14:38
Canny Maphanga and Carin Smith

Unions and flag carrier SAA are still deadlocked as a national strike continues.

"The unions are still sticking to their guns and we continue to urge unions to approach the situation with open minds," said SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said during a media briefing at OR Tambo International Airport on Friday afternoon. "All of us must understand how serious this is. We are exposing ourselves to revenue loss of R52m a day. If this continues there will be no winners."

Tlali said that SAA cannot present anything other than its offer of a 5.9% wage increase. Unions have demanded an 8% increase, together with the insourcing of employees and a promise of no job losses. 

"We want to channel our energies and focus on getting labour to work with us to find a working solution," said Tlali.

On Friday morning the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Cabin Crew Association started what they had warned would be the "mother of all strikes" in an attempt to get SAA to improve its offer. The airline, which is technically insolvent, has warned there may be 'no recovery' from the industrial action, Earlier in the week it said it may have to cut about one in five jobs at SAA. 

SAA announced earlier on Friday that it has extended the cancellation of all domestic and regional flights scheduled for Sunday November 17, and Monday November 18.  It said the operational decision was aimed at minimising the impact of disruptions.  

At the same time, it is aiming to operate all international flights departing from OR Tambo International Airport from Sunday. Departures from SAA’s international stations, including London, New York, Washington, Munich, Frankfurt and Hong Kong, are expected to operate from Monday.

The first departure from São Paul is expected to operate on Sunday, 17 November, it said. The first departure from Perth is expected to operate on Tuesday, 19 November. 

Numsa national spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi Majola, told Fin24 on Friday afternoon that the union regards the strike as having been very successful so far on Friday.

"Our members have come out in their numbers at airports all over the country," she said. Another meeting with SAA has been scheduled on Saturday under the auspices of the CCMA, and the union hopes the airline will take the discussion seriously and "tell us something different so we can find each other".

Numsa said it is disappointed that SAA has announced further cancellation of flights beyond the initial cancellations on Friday and Saturday.

"It tells us this airline would rather waste R52m a day than look at workers' wages. What kind of financial strategy is that? That is not good leadership. I would urge the executive management of SAA, the board and the shareholder to demonstrate genuine leadership and try to find a solution for the strike," she added.

Flights cancelled

SAA said it had worked with its sister airline, Mango Airlines, to re-accommodate as many customers as possible travelling on domestic services.

This may mean changes in timing and aircraft types, it warned, but aims to ensure that customers reach their intended destination with minimal disruption. The flag carrier will attempt to accommodate customers travelling to destinations in the regional African market on Airlink, a partner airline of SAA, and other airlines where possible. However, it will not be possible to re-accommodate all customers, it said. 


SAA, which is technically insolvent, has said it would apply a “no work no pay” principle to those who participate in the strike.

“Those who participate in the strike action will not be permitted back to work until the strike is over,” Martin Kemp, SAA’s acting general manager for human resources, told Bloomberg. “The rest of the employees who report for duty will be allowed to work.”

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