The SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
The SAA fleet parked at OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) have threatened to ground embattled airline SAA when it embarks on the “mother of all strikes” at the national carrier in the next two days.

This follows an announcement on Monday that SAA is to cut 944 jobs, or about 20% of its workforce, to bring costs under control.

 The unions’ members from the SAA cabin crew, check-in desk, ticket sales, head office, technical staff and ground staff, will down tools in support of their demands for an 8% wage increase across the board. They are also demanding job security for at least three years and an end to outsourcing of services.

Numsa and Sacca represent more than 3,000 workers at SAA and SAA Technical across the country.

“There are likely to be  disruptions and therefore we advise members of the public to make alternative arrangements if they have booked flights with SAA,” said Sacca president Zazi Sibanyoni-Mugambi, during a joint media briefing with Numsa in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

This as SAA non-executive director Martin Kingston told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts earlier in the day that the airline would not be able to withstand a strike, which would cost in the region of R50m a day.

The unprofitable airline continues to burn R500m a month despite the efforts of its new management and directors to turn it around. The government hopes to fix the airline to attract a strategic equity partner, but wants to get it on a secure financial footing first.

SAA received R5.5bn from the National Treasury in 2019. It has also been given an undertaking that the Treasury will repay its R9.2bn debt over the next three years.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said the unions rejected the planned job cuts at SAA, saying they are a ploy by management to make workers pull back from their wage demands.

“What we are faced with in this country when it comes to sate-owned entities (SOEs), there is a particular centre, the National Treasury and department of public enterprises, where, in those two ministries, what you are confronted with is [a] rampant right-wing capitalist agenda to attack the hard work of workers,” said Jim.

The unions will not fold arms and allow the workers’ livelihoods to be auctioned off, he said. “We are grounding the airline on Friday. That airline must not move. This strike will be an indefinite strike until these people come to the table,” Jim said.

“If they think we are playing, they must watch what is coming. We call on our members to be united. Our members deserve that increase; it’s time for SAA management to come to the table between now and Friday and make an offer that can avert the strike. Failing that, we are going ahead with the strike on Friday.” 

Numsa will approach the union federation Saftu, of which it is an affiliate, to organise a strike against job cuts and privatisation, he said.

“The best way to turn around this economy is for workers take to the streets and demand that the state play its role in the economy. We are saying come Friday, workers must fight for themselves. We are calling on the SA public [to say] we can’t allow this government to do as it wishes. We have kept quiet for far too long.”

Numsa national infrastructure co-ordinator Viwe James said that it met SAA executives on Friday and “at no stage did they indicate that they will file a section 189 notice [dealing with retrenchments]. We are aware they are planning to interdict the strike. We are not shocked.”