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An Already-Struggling South African Airways Goes on Strike

Another day, another airline strike. Operations at South African Airways (SAA) has come to a screeching halt as two-thirds of employees plan to strike on Friday. The airline has canceled a majority of its mainline flights on Friday, November 15th and Saturday, November 16th. A few select regional and international flights will operate to Johannesburg as some crew members are willing to fly home. These flights are:

Regional to Johannesburg – Friday morning

  • Maputo (SA147)
  • Lusaka (SA067)
  • Harare (SA025)
  • Windhoek (SA073)
  • Accra (SA210)

International to Johannesburg – Friday evening

  • Frankfurt (SA261)
  • New York (SA204)
  • Munich (SA265)
  • Hong Kong (SA287)
  • Perth (SA281)
  • Washington (SA210)
  • London (SA235)

Partner airline flights on SA Express, Mango, SA Airlines, and other codeshares will continue to operate as normal.

Union Strike

South African Airways (SAA) is a state-owned carrier that has suffered financial loses since 2011. Recently, the airline announced a new restructuring plan to curve those losses, including laying off 944 of its 5000+ employees. This announcement did not bode well with the union representing about 3,000 of SAA’s employees. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Cabin Crew Association have responded to the workforce cut by planning to go on strike Friday and Saturday. Not only are they protesting the layoffs, but are also demanding job security for three years and an 8% raise in salary. Current negotiations are offering workers a 5.9% increase, pending lender fund availability.

President of the South African Cabin Crew Association, Zazi Nsibanyoni-Anyiam, explained, “We are left with no choice but to resort to this drastic action by withdrawing our labour and going on strike.” The strike is said to begin at 2:00 AM GMT on Friday morning. SAA airport agents, head office staff, technical staff, and ground staff are expected to participate.

Will SAA Stay Afloat?

With consistent yearly losses and the reliance on government bailouts, the industry is skeptical of if the airline’s survivability. The acting CEO of the airline pleaded with the union, stressing that the strike will only create more problems. He said in a statement, “The unions and all employees should be mindful of the current financial constraints the company is facing. Wage demands have to be tested on the basis of affordability and sustainability. The recognized unions are aware that our financial challenges are caused by a number of factors, including a severely distressed global airline industry, which has resulted in numerous airlines retrenching staff, embarking on cost-reduction programmes, implementing wage freezes, reducing operations, or even closing down. Like other airlines, SAA is under severe financial pressure. At the moment, our costs are higher than our revenue, and the sooner we address that, the better for immediate survival of the company.”

The company plans to finalize the restructuring by March 2020. If they go through with the 944 layoffs, then they should expect to save about 700 million rands ($47 million USD).

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