South African Airlines check-in desk at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency

Johannesburg - South African Airways (SAA) has cancelled flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday because of a pending strike by a majority of employees over a wage dispute and the state-run carrier's plans to cut jobs.

The airline had hoped to avert the walkout with a revised wage offer but unions rejected it in talks on Thursday.

SAA has failed to turn a profit since 2011 while relying on state bailouts to fund a growing financing gap.

The airline is also without a permanent chief executive and has yet to file annual results for the two most recent financial years because of concerns about its viability as a business.

Unions representing about 3 000 of its 5 000-member workforce said on Wednesday that cabin crew and other workers would strike over wages and plans to cut more than 900 jobs.

The carrier said on Wednesday it might never recover if the strike by the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), went ahead. It has said the strike would cost it an estimated 50 million rand ($3.36 million) a day.

Unions are demanding an immediate 8% salary hike, SAA said on Thursday it would offer a 5.9% increase from April when it hopes to have secured the necessary funding.

"As we continue to prepare for the strike tomorrow, we are hopeful that we will receive positive feedback from management on the issues that we have raised," Numsa spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters.

INDEFINITE STRIKE

Only flights directly operated by SAA would be affected. Flights by subsidiaries Mango, SA Express and SA Air Link, as well as those of private operators, would not be affected, SAA said.

"The strike is an indefinite strike until management gives in to our demands," Hlubi-Majola said.

Unions said the strike would begin at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Friday. They are calling on SAA's check-in, ticket sales, head office, technical staff and ground staff to take part.

Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi, president of SACCA, said the new offer was unacceptable.

"They really need to get serious, 5.9% simply won't cut it," Nsibanyoni-Mugambi added.

SAA flies around 6.8 million passengers annually to six continents with routes to New York, London and Hong Kong among its eight international destinations.

Two other unions at South African Airways (SAA) representing about 2,500 employees mostly in technical and mid-management jobs, said they would go to the labour court to block the state airline's plan to cut jobs.

"The timing was not good at all. How can you issue Section 189 (redundancy) notices while you are busy in a wage dispute. It's bad faith bargaining for SAA to come with this threat," said Frank Mackenzie, president of union AUSA.

Reuters