The South African Airlines check-in desk at Cape Town International Airport on November 14, 2019, a day before unions embarked on a strike to press for an 8 percent wage increase, among other demands. PHOTO: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - Workers at national carrier South African Airways began a two-day strike likely to cost the financially-strapped airline millions of rand as it was forced to cancel almost all its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Workers affiliated to the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) want an 8 percent wage increase and have rejected SAA's offer of 5.9 percent.

NUMSA said the strike was an indefinite national shut down which would see workers picket at the country's airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London.

On Thursday the carrier, which said it would run just four flights to the capital cities of neighbouring Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, said a “no-work-no-pay” principle would apply to strike employees while those who reported for duty would be allowed to work.

The workers are also angry after the airline said on Monday it was embarking on a restructuring process which may lead to job losses for approximately 944 workers. They say employees are bearing the brunt of problems at SAA brought about by years of mismanagement.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) expressed extreme concern about SAA's cancellation of global flights, which it said had a financial implication of R100 million, money that the airline desperately needed.

"SAA is currently a bottom-less money pit. It has received over R15 billion in government bailouts since 2017, including the R5.5 billion allocated in September this year," the party said, noting that finance minister Tito Mboweni had committed an additional R9.2 billion in his medium-term budget policy statement last month to meet maturing debt repayment.

"The state cannot continue like this, where funds are taken away from service provision in order to service the debt and gross mismanagement that has taken place at our state-owned entities," the ACDP said.

"Consequence management must not just be spoken about, but implemented. It is high-time that those responsible are held to account and South Africans are no longer made to pay for the mistakes or greed of the elite and politically connected."

- African News Agency (ANA)