Picture: 123RF/ RICHARD VAN DER SPUY
Picture: 123RF/ RICHARD VAN DER SPUY

Embattled SAA announced on Monday it would resume flights to six African destinations from Tuesday.

SAA was hit by strikes on Friday, with more than 3,000 of its 5,000-strong workforce walking off the job. Employees, organised by the National Union of Metalworkers  of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association, are demanding an 8% salary increase against the company’s offer of 5.9% deferred to April 2020.

The airline is in a dire financial state and is unable to cover costs from the revenue it generates. A R5.5bn bailout from the government in October, plus an undertaking to repay its debt, is not sufficient to keep SAA flying without further government assistance.

On Friday, the airline cancelled all flights but on Monday resumed international flights. SAA announced on Sunday it had resumed its flights to New York, London, Frankfurt, Munich and Washington DC. International flights to Perth and Hong Kong were also expected to operate as scheduled from Monday.

The airline will resume flying to Accra, Lagos, Lusaka, Maputo, Windhoek and Harare, it said. Domestic flights remain cancelled, with some passengers being accommodated on Mango and other airlines.

Not all employees at the airline are on strike. The National Transport Movement (NTM) is on the brink of securing an agreement on wages with the company. NTM president Mashudu Raphetha said on Monday members did not want to strike and believed an agreement with management was close.

We are pleased that SAA is now able to increase services and to offer our customers more flights on the African continent, and that all our international flights are back on schedule. It is also important to assure SAA’s customers that our operations are safe and that the airline will never compromise on this core responsibility,” SAA’s chief commercial officer, Philip Saunders, said.

On Sunday, Numsa claimed in a statement that SAA was compromising on safety by making use of crew that were not fully qualified. SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia gave Numsa an ultimatum to withdraw its claim or face legal action.

The SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) on Monday said it was busy processing information sent by SAA denying  the Numsa claims. 

But an unperturbed Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, Numsa’s spokesperson, told Business Day on Monday the union was not going to withdraw its claims on passenger safety. “We maintain everything [we said] is true,” she said.

Sacaa spokesperson Phindiwe Gwabu said that according to the information submitted by SAA, the national carrier was not using unqualified and/or inexperienced personnel.

“We asked them to submit some information to us. We are in the process of verifying that information, but it is highly unlikely that they would be using unqualified personnel because not everyone is on strike,” she said.

Gwabu said of the 323 employees doing major maintenance, only 94 were on strike; of the 334 doing minor maintenance, about 82 were striking, and of the 49 quality assurance personnel, only one person had downed tools.

“We are yet to come across any information that seeks to confirm the statement by the union. So far we have not found anything,” Gwabu said.

Meanwhile, SAA is expected to hold a media briefing in Johannesburg  on Tuesday to provide an update on the strike action, wage negotiations, restructuring and “legal actions against unions”, it said in a statement.

Khaya Magaxa‚ chair of the portfolio committee on public enterprises‚ criticised Numsa’s comments as “reckless and irresponsible”.

“While the committee supports the right of employees to strike within the confines of labour laws … it would like to appeal to workers not to damage and destroy SAA’s credibility. If the employees continue down the path of destruction‚ this will lead to the destruction of jobs that we seek to protect and increase.”

patonc@businesslive.co.za

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za