Unions threaten to ground SA aviation


Striking unions threatened to shut down South Africa’s entire aviation industry by extending industrial action beyond state-run South African Airways (SAA).

SAA cancelled hundreds of flights since the strike began on Friday, saying the stoppage is costing R50 million ($3.36 million) a day and jeopardising talks with lenders around much-needed funding, threatening its survival.

The carrier and unions representing halfits workforce held negotiations on Saturday that ended without an agreement. By Sunday, both sides were trading threats.

Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokeswoman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which called the strike alongside the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), told journalists it was consulting with members at other organisations in the industry on a secondary strike.

“This secondary strike will shut down the entire aviation sector,” she said. Consultations were underway with workers at SAA subsidiary Mango Airlines, other airlines like Comair and organisations including the Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA).

She said NUMSA filed an application with the High Court to have the board of SAA Technical, an SAA unit providing aircraft maintenance, declared delinquent and said flights SAA restarted were unsafe.

Some SAA international flights resumed though local and regional flights remain grounded.

SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia called on unions to retract statements made with regards to SAA’s safety, saying the airline would consider legal action.

Ramasia told a media briefing a secondary strike would hurt South Africa’s competitiveness. “The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring airports to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy,” she said.

The unions’ plan could compound disruption by hitting airlines SAA relies on to make alternative flight arrangements.

Union demands include an eight percent wage increase and outsourced services to be bought back in-house. They also object to SAA plans to axe more than 900 jobs. They say workers are tired of taking the hit for years of management failures.

SAA, which has not made a profit since 2011 and is reliant on government bailouts to survive, says it needs to cut costs. President Cyril Ramaphosa staked his reputation on turning around ailing state-run firms like SAA that government us forced to prop up.

Ramasia said SAA was tasked by dispute resolution body the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, which mediated Saturday’s talks, to consider options going forward with the unions.

“We are considering options provided,” she said, adding SAA would revert to the CCMA, whose commissioners will reconvene talks.