Cabin crew at South African Airways (SAA) could down tools on Wednesday, demanding a R2,200 meal allowance for international flights.

The industrial action could result in widespread disruption of international and domestic flights. Safety requirements demand that cabin crew be present on any flight in case of an emergency.

South African Cabin Crew Association deputy president Christopher Shabangu said talks with the airline were expected to go late into the night on Tuesday.

It was still possible an agreement could be reached to avert the strike, he said. However, even if a deal was struck, operations could still be affected. Union members were expecting to go on a strike and some early flights could be affected if an agreement was signed only at the last minute.

SAA operates about 145 international and domestic flights daily.

The union said the ability of the airline to implement contingency plans would be limited should the strike proceed.

"It would be illegal to fly without us. They cannot fly without cabin crew properly licensed by the [Civil Aviation Authority] … it would be very difficult to put in place contingency plans," said Shabangu.

The association maintains it has not received an increase in its meal allowance since 2016.

Shabangu said crew had a litany of grievances about conditions of service at SAA and the allowance was just one example of a long-standing issue.

Cabin crew were also concerned about the slow pace at which the airline dealt with concerns over conditions of service, if it tackled them at all.

During wage talks in 2016, parties agreed that meal allowances did not constitute official terms or conditions of employment, but rather operational costs.

Despite this, it was taken for granted in other bargaining units that such allowances were critical and increased according to the inflation rate year on year, said Shabangu.

The national carrier had not immediately commented by the time of publication.

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