JOHANNESBURG - The main opposition Democratic Alliance said on Tuesday it had asked for certain aviation industry services to be declared “essential”, thus barring the relevant workers from to striking, as a wage strike at national carrier South African Airways (SAA) entered a fifth day.

In a statement, DA shadow minister of employment and labour Dr Michael Cardo noted that the regulation and control of air traffic in South Africa had already been declared an essential service in 1997.

"It could be argued that since airports in South Africa have been designated as national key points under the National Key Points Act of 1980, which means that any damage to, or disruption and immobilization of these facilities may harm the country, it would be in the public interest to ban all strike action at airports and indeed any national key points," Cardo said.

The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) vowed at the weekend to intensify the strike to press for an eight percent wage increase, among other demands, after a failed meeting with SAA management on Saturday under the auspices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).

The two unions, who have rejected SAA's offer of 5.9 percent, also warned passengers "not to fly SAA because their safety cannot be guaranteed".

On Tuesday Cardo said he had written to the CCMA's Essential Services Committee, requesting that certain services in the airline sector be deemed "essential” and accused NUMSA of bullying tactics over the warning to passengers.

"This bullying brinkmanship is typical of NUMSA. The union is a destructive, intransigent menace to society and the economy," he said. "However, given NUMSA’s history of violence and intimidation during industrial action, its threats should be treated with the utmost seriousness."

At the very least, pilots and all technical ground and air staff responsible for passengers’ health and safety should be regarded as performing an essential service, said Cardo.

"Given the strict security provisions at airports, and the fact that many of the functions rendered by aviation logistics companies require specialised employees, it is difficult to find replacement labour in the event of a strike," he said.

"NUMSA has held SAA and the country’s air travellers to ransom for too long. It is time for decisive action against this economic wrecking ball," he added.

- African News Agency (ANA)