Members of the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa members picket at the SAA Airways Park in Kempton Park, South Africa, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
JOHANNESBURG - Striking workers unions at South African Airways (SAA) have finally agreed to a 5.9 percent wage increase following a long-week strike and protracted negotiations at the airline. 

Thousands of workers affiliated with the National Union of Metalworkers Union of SA (Numsa) and SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) downed tools at SAA last week Friday.

They were demanding 8 percent salary increases across the board, insourcing of workers and job security for at least three years.

SAA had been playing hardball with unions, saying it can only afford 5.9 percent wage increases in March, and that would be dependent on the availability of funds from its lenders.

According to the agreement inked on Friday, workers who earn less than R1 million per annum will get a 5.9 percent increase, retrospective to 1 April 2019, and be paid on 20 February 2020.

The back payment for the first six months (April to September 2019) will be paid in the March 2020 payroll, while the remaining four months (October 2019 to January 2020) will be paid in April 2020 payroll.

However, these salary increases and back payments are subject to funds being obtained by SAA.

SAA is scrambling to secure the R2 billion government guaranteed funding from lenders for daily operations and to pay November salaries on time.

The airline said the first tranche of funding would be used to sustain operations while the second tranche would be prioritized for salaries when it is received in January/February 2020.

The airline had already said yesterday that it would not be able to pay some staff salaries on time for the month of November. 

The agreement also says managers earning between R1m to R1.49m per annum will receive an increase of 2.8 percent.

Managers earning more than R1.49m per annum would not receive an increase. 

“The parties acknowledge that this agreement settles the issue of wages and conditions of employment and is an accurate record of all rights created through the 2019 wage negotiations,” it read. 

The CCMA said it was pleased that the wage dispute had been resolved.

It said it would provide post dispute support to the parties, in order assist them to work through some of the identified underlying issues and challenges. 

CCMA director, Cameron Morajane, commended the parties for remaining in process and restoring some measure of stability. 

Earlier on Friday, SAA signed a deal with a union not involved in the strike that has crippled the heavily indebted carrier, giving its members a 5.9% pay rise backdated to April.

The National Transport Movement (NTM) is one of the largest unions at SAA but its members did not participate in the strike, that has left the airline with almost no cash and at risk of missing salary payments this month.

The state-owned carrier’s swift decline has turned it into a black hole for government bailout money. The government has spent about 20 billion rand ($1.4 billion) on SAA in the past three years.