File picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters.

JOHANNESBURG - SA Airways said on Thursday it had cancelled nearly all its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday after unions announced plans to strike over wages.

The South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said on Wednesday their members would embark on industrial action from Friday morning. 

Sacca president Zazi Sibanyoni-Mugambi said workers were demanding an 8% across the board wage increase, job security for at least three years, insourcing of all services that had been outsourced, which they believe SAA has the capacity to fulfil.  

The airline said the National Transport Movement had not stated whether its members would participate in the strike.

“We are putting our customers first and regret the inevitable inconvenience that these cancellations may cause our customers. However, by acting proactively SAA can certainly help customers find alternatives,” SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said.

“Unless alternative arrangements are in place, customers are requested not to go to their departure airports during the disruption as SAA will be unable to provide any assistance. Information on the status of our flights will be regularly updated on our website."

Only flights operated by SAA would be affected, Tlali said.

He said during negotiations with the unions, cash-strapped airline had presented a revised offer for employees delivering a 5.9% increase subject to the availability of funds from lenders. 

"Discussions are continuing to resolve the wage matter," he said. 

"SAA will spare no effort to work jointly with the labour unions to find solutions that accommodate the employee demands, safeguard the business and return operations to normal."

The airline would assess the situation on an ongoing basis and customers would be kept informed of all operational developments on a daily basis, Tlali added.

The strike announcement comes after SAA said on Monday it had informed its 5,146 employees that it was embarking on a restructuring process which may lead to job losses for approximately 944 workers. Unions have suggested the announcement of possible job cuts is an intimidatory tactic to force their hand in the wage negotiations.

African News Agency (ANA)