South Africa’s Public Enterprises minister will meet unions striking at its state-owned airline on Tuesday in an effort to resolve a strike over wages at the embattled South African Airways (SAA) that has entered its fifth day. Photo: Mike Hutchings Reuters

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s Public Enterprises minister will meet unions striking at its state-owned airline on Tuesday in an effort to resolve a strike over wages at the embattled South African Airways (SAA) that has entered its fifth day.

State-owned SAA has cancelled hundreds of flights since the strike began on Friday, saying the stoppage is costing R50 million ($3.36 million) per day and jeopardising talks with lenders.

Irvin Jim, General Secretary for the National Union for Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which called the strike alongside the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca), said the unions would meet with Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday.

Sacca’s deputy president Christopher Shabangu also confirmed the meeting saying it was “trying to find a solution to ending the strike”.

The spokesman for minister Gordhan could not be reached for comment.

The strike has cast doubt on the survival of the airline, which hasn’t turned a profit since 2011 and is reliant on state bailouts.

SAA interim chief financial officer Deon Fredericks said the strike was pushing the struggling airline to unsustainable levels. “If this strike continues, we are running the risk of putting SAA out of business,” Fredericks said. 

SAA is working with Mango Airlines to accommodate as many customers travelling on domestic services as possible and refunding passengers their flights or travel with other airlines.

The national carrier said on Monday its international flights were operating on schedule while some domestic passengers would face more cancellations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The unions have also threatened to shut down the entire aviation industry in Africa’s most industrialised nation by extending industrial action beyond state-run airline.

Independent aviation expert Javed Malik said SAA needed to fix its cost structure in order to attract more business and potential investors.

“They should be cleaning their house first and focus more on internal issues before worrying about what their competitors are doing. The competition has its own troubles as well,” Malik said.

“The passengers who threaten not to use SAA again will come back; industrial action happens everywhere in the world. Any possible equity partner will come if SAA is making money or if they want routes it operates on.”

SAA is expected to give updates on the strike at 12pm on Tuesday. 

REUTERS / BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE