An indefinite strike by cabin crew and other workers at South African Airways is at risk of endangering the very future of the airline according to a stark warning from management at the carrier. Cabin crew are expected to down tools at 4am on Friday for an initial 48-hour stoppage, with the airline grounding all domestic, regional and international flights on both Friday and Saturday.
The South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) announced strike action on Tuesday shortly after the airline revealed it planned to make around 944 employees worldwide redundant in a desperate bid to stem mounting losses at the State-owned airline.
Union officials have demanded the airline put a halt to the planned retrenchments and offer cabin crew a pay rise of 8 per cent following a breakdown in wage negotiations. In a bid to get the union to back down from its strike threat, the airline brought an immediate 5.9 per cent pay rise to the table on Wednesday – an offer that was swiftly rejected by employee representatives.
With the airline now encouraging some employees to break the picket line, while also threatening any employee who partakes in the walkout that they’ll be barred from returning to work until the dispute is resolved, there’s concern that tempers might overflow.
“Employees have been advised that any intimidation or assaults of other employees, damage to SAA property, or acts of misconduct will be dealt with decisively. Picketing rules will apply and these will be posted at the picketing sites,” advised artin Kemp, Acting SAA General Manager for Human Resources.
But Kemp went onto say that South African Airlines would “continue to spare no effort” in finding a solution to the current impasse.
Strike action is likely to cost the airline at least R50 million (USD $3 million) per day, acting chairperson of the SAA board Thandeka Mgoduso warned the South African parliament on Wednesday.
South African Airlines is said to have made losses of R28 billion in the last 13-years. Financial analysts estimate losses of R9 billion for 2018, although the airline still hasn’t released its financial results for last year. South Africa’s finance minister recently announced that the country would pay off the airline’s debt over the next three years.