Cabin crew at South African Airways have reportedly issued a strike notice against the airline with the possibility that crew could hold a walkout in as little as 48-hours time. The South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) announced the threat after the airline said that as many as 944 employees worldwide could be made redundant in a desperate bid to cut costs.
The union is said to have been infuriated with how staffers found out about the retrenchments – with many employees reading about the planned layoffs in the media and the airline releasing a press statement before sending out any internal communications on the issue.
A spokesperson for SACCA also claims the timing of the redundancy notice is highly suspicious – coming shortly after talks between the union and cabin crew on a long-awaited pay rise broke down. Union chiefs believe the threat of job losses will dissuade crew from fighting for a better wage.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), which also represents employees at the airline said they would down tools on Friday, although would be willing to suspend any action if the airline is willing to come back to the table.
But with strike action likely to cost the airline up to R50 million (USD $3 million) per day, acting chairperson of the SAA board Thandeka Mgoduso warned the South African parliament on Wednesday that industrial action would only make the airline’s perilous financial situation worse.
South African Airlines is said to have made losses of R28 billion in the last 13-years. Financial analysts estimate losses of R9 billion for 2018, although the airline still hasn’t released its financial results for last year. South Africa’s finance minister recently announced that the country would pay off the airline’s debt over the next three years.
If and when the cabin crew strikes do go ahead, the airline has warned that all flights will be grounded. At present, the redundancies don’t include the low-cost subsidiary Mango Airlines, so these flights shouldn’t be affected.
Acting chief executive, Zuks Ramasia said yesterday that it was “a matter of great regret that we will part ways with some loyal colleagues.”
She continued: “We are taking all possible steps to ensure these changes are managed in a caring manner and that everyone is treated with dignity.”
Ramasia promised to work with employee unions and workgroups before making anyone redundant but claimed that the retrenchments were essential to address the airline’s ongoing lossmaking position.