JOHANNESBURG  - Workers at national carrier South African Airways who face imminent job cuts are paying the price for years of graft and mismanagement, the main opposition Democratic Alliance said on Tuesday.

The move has also angered unions, with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) accusing SAA of informing workers of its intentions through a media statement rather than directly.

On Monday SAA said it had informed all its 5,146 employees that it was embarking on a restructuring process which may lead to job losses for approximately 944 workers.

Acting chief executive officer Zuks Ramasia said the airline had commenced a consultation process with all employees in line with section 189 of the Labour Relations Act. The act requires an employer to consult with recognised labour unions and keep abreast employees who may be affected by the restructuring.

On Tuesday DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone said SAA was one of many state-owned enterprises that had fallen prey to poor management and corruption, singling out former chairwoman Dudu Myeni who faces charges in court of pushing corrupt deals while at the airline's helm, contributing to its financial woes.

Myeni and the former executives of several other state-owned companies have been implicated in years of state capture, during which a wealthy family with close ties to former South African president Jacob Zuma is accused of trying to influence the government for financial gain.

"During the height of state capture money was squandered and SAA has nothing to show for the billions that have been misappropriated over those years," Mazzone said on Tuesday.

"It is unfortunate that so many SAA employees now face imminent job cuts. Yet again, ordinary workers are forced to bear the brunt for the years of ANC (ruling African National Congress) corruption and mismanagement. As SAA employees face the possibility of unemployment, the likes of Myeni and her cabal who destroyed the national carrier have gotten off scot free."

She said those who benefited from state capture should have their assets frozen and renewed the DA's for public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to place SAA under business rescue and immediately shut down another loss-making state-owned airline, SA Express.

On Tuesday unions NUMSA and SACCA said no consultation had taken place -- as claimed by SAA -- prior to Monday's announcement about the restructuring.

"We were informed through a media statement of their intentions. We have been engaging with SAA management on wage talks and the last meeting took place yesterday. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss wage increases," they said in a joint statement.

"We have placed our demands on the table and SAA is unwilling to consider our demands because they claim they do not have money. Pilots at SAA recently received a 5.9 percent wage increase because of an agreement they have signed with SAA. But our demands for an increase for an 8 percent have been denied."

"This is why we are questioning the timing of this announcement. It is a veiled threat to get workers to drop their demands for wage increases and for the removal of the SAA board. They want to strike fear into the hearts of our members," NUMSA and SACCA added.

- African News Agency (ANA)