State-owned SAA, which is already dependent on state handouts, said it would not withstand a strike that could cost it R50m a day, adding to its financial crisis, and would set off a chain of events from which it might never recover.

Two trade unions on Wednesday gave notice of the intention to commence "the mother of all strikes" on Friday after attempts to reach a wage settlement over several months failed. A walkout would ground the airline because the vast majority of employees — cabin crew, sales staff, customer service assistants and management — are unionised.

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