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'We are grounding that airline on Friday': Numsa says strike is only solution to SAA impasse

13 November 2019 - 18:56 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
SAA is heading for serious trouble after workers promised to strike this week over looming job cuts.
SAA is heading for serious trouble after workers promised to strike this week over looming job cuts.
Image: SAA

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) are adamant that a looming retrenchment plan by South African Airways (SAA) is an act of retaliation.

During a press briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday, SACCA president Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said the unions rejected the airline's explanation that it cannot meet their demands due to a lack of funds.

“Workers have been at the forefront of trying to save SAA and make it viable. Our members have been fighting against corruption. Some were even fired for doing this," she said.

"Yet the same cannot be said for the executive management and the board - it has consistently been an obstacle in rooting out corruption at the airline. Several executives have been exposed in corrupt activities through costly forensic investigations - nine in total - but none have been disciplined, suspended or fired.

"To date, not one red cent has been recovered from monies which were stolen through acts of corruption and looting."

Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said that in 2015, workers were retrenched and the same reasons were given. “That process has clearly failed to deliver on results because four years later, management is retrenching once again," she said.

“We have held frequent marches, campaigns and pickets. We have gone to court at great expense to ourselves. We have had to defend frivolous court cases, and even opened criminal cases in an attempt to force the board and management to act in the interests of SAA and South Africa and run the airline profitably."

Nsibanyoni-Mugambi said that the board and management of SAA "have done everything in their power, including frustrating a very capable GCEO, Vuyani Jarana, in order to collapse the airline".

"We are now left with no choice but to resort to this drastic course of action, by withdrawing our labour and hopping on strike.”

The unions served SAA and SAA Technical (SAAT) with a 48-hour notice to strike. “What this means is that we will be embarking on the mother of all strikes at all SAA and SAAT operations nationally, beginning on Friday morning, November 15 at 4am,” she said.

The strike certificate relates to wages. "We have deadlocked with the employer over our wage demands, which include the following: an 8% across-the-board wage increase, job security for at least three years, and insourcing of all services which are outsourced,” she said.

“Pilots received a 5.9% increase and SAA agreed to pay them. Our members are simply demanding their increase as well. Our members earn much lower than pilots, which is why the demand is 8%."

SAA acting chair Thandeka Mgoduso confirmed receiving the notice during a presentation before parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday.

SAA board member Martin Kingston indicated during the meeting that any strike would be catastrophic for SAA, costing it R50m a day.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said this was an unpaid strike. “We are grounding that airline on Friday - they will see," he warned.