by Naledi Mashishi
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Workers at South African Airways (SAA) downed tools on Friday to demand higher wages and protest planned job cuts in a strike that has forced the troubled state-owned carrier to cancel all flights and left its future hanging in the balance.FILE PHOTO: Passengers wait to check in at South African Airways (SAA) counters at Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
SAA, which has not turned a profit since 2011 and is without a permanent CEO, says the strike by unions representing more than half of its workforce will cost it 50 million rand ($3.36 million) per day and threatens its survival.
The unions rejected SAA’s revised wage offer late on Thursday, and are also striking over the carrier’s plans to cut more than 900 jobs in a bid to stem financial losses and end a reliance on state bailouts.
SAA’s acting chief financial officer, Deon Fredericks, told the eNCA news channel that the airline, hurt by past mismanagement, could not just close its eyes and carry on.
“We’ll just go deeper down,” he said.
SAA is currently trying to negotiate funding from banks it needs to stay afloat. Fredericks said the airline would not survive without the money, and the financial impact of the strike could jeopardize the talks.
The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) called the SAA strike from 0200 GMT on Friday. The unions said the strike will continue until their demands, including an 8% wage increase and job security, are met.
NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the unions did not believe management’s warnings of possible collapse, and the airline’s problems were a result of their repeated failures.