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

SAA strike is over, but where will the money come from

By staff reporters Time of article published Nov 23, 2019

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Pretoria - South African Airways and unions reached a wage deal on Friday ending a strike that had travellers in a tailspin. Last weekend SAA had to cancel most of its flights, and try to assist passengers with seats on other carriers.

SAA announced that workers would return today, and flights will resume as normal this weekend after it reached a deal with the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

The unions launched the strike on November 15, shortly after the airline said a restructuring process that could affect nearly 950 employees. They also wanted more pay for their 3 000 members, and their demand of 8% was finally settled at 5.9% - with conditions.

SAA is Africa’s second-largest carrier and had warned that the strike “endangers the future of the airline”. 

It was estimated to be costing R50 million a day.

The airline is among debt-ridden state-owned enterprises that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is trying to revive after widespread mismanagement and corruption.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said sacrifices were required on all sides, as SAA tries to turn its fortunes around after years of losses.

Gordhan has warned that tough decisions had to be made because the government couldn’t keep bailing out SAA and other loss-making state-owned enterprises.

But the unions argued that their members should not have to pay the price of years of mismanagement at SAA.

SAA has lost more than R28 billion over the past 13 years and relies on financial support from the government to stay in the air, and government is now talking to potential partners to ease the burden on the taxpayer.

“Our country needs a joint effort to create and maintain productive industrial relations that are key to the stability required to grow and expand the economy, create and maintain jobs and promote the country’s global competitiveness. This agreement with the unions will help promote that atmosphere of positivity,” said Zuks Ramasia, SAA’s acting chief executive officer.

The agreement includes an increase of 5.9% on total cost of employment retrospective to 1 April 2019, which will be paid in the February 2020 payroll, subject to availability of funding.

The back payment for the first six months - April to September 2019 - will be paid in the March 2020 payroll. The remaining four months - October 2019 to January 2020 - back pay will be paid in the April 2020 payroll. SAA said the salary increase and back pay was subject to funds being obtained for such purposes and being available during February 2020, March 2020 and April 2020.

Another result of the agreement now is that any proposed retrenchments as part of a restructure have been postponed, but this could again become an issue in the new year. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts and political parties welcomed the deal.

Travellers reacted with relief on social media. Those planning holidays who had been waiting for the strike to end could now go ahead and book on SAA.

Pretoria News

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