Strike Action By South African Unions Threatens To Bring The Country To A Standstill

By  |  November 14, 2019

On Tuesday, November 12, South Africa’s ailing state-owned carrier, South African Airways (SAA), announced its intention to layoff over 900 members of staff in an effort to stem financial losses and save the bankrupt carrier from going under.

But that was never going to go down well with the affected parties and now things are threatening to boil over. That’s because an imminent showdown is between South Africa’s government and its workers whose salaries are straining the national budget is brewing.

On Friday, November 14, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Cabin Crew Association, which represent more than 3,000 staff at SAA, have threatened to go on strike as from Friday to protest the carrier’s failure to meet their pay demands and its plans to fire 944 employees.

The group is demanding job security for at least three years, a salary increase of 8 percent and discontinuation of the practice of hiring outside contractors to provide services such as security and cleaning.

All SAA flights scheduled for November 15 and 16 have been cancelled. The carrier said this is in order “to minimize the impact of disruptions“ that might result from the strike.

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It is understood that SAA had offered to beef up wages by 5.9 percent but having had the offer thrown out, a revised offer is to be brought up in a meeting with the unions on Thursday.

SAA has lost more than ZAR 28 Bn (USD 1.9 Bn) over the past 13 years and relies on government bailouts to stay afloat. The airline says it has no option other than to restructure or place the entire business at risk.

It is the stance of the unions that their members shouldn’t have to pay the price of years of mismanagement and misappropriation of the airline’s funds, and that alternate remedies need to be sought.

The storm at SAA may well open the floodgates for labour action at other state companies like Eskom that are trying to offload workers and reduce huge wage bills.

Eskom, which supplies up to 95 percent of the nation’s power has been on the loss train for years. The company claims to have no need for up to 16,000 workers in its employ and have hinted at a mass layoff to stem losses.

But the unions are having it, threatening to bring the entire country to a standstill if the company goes ahead with the job cuts.

Featured Image Courtesy: Al Jazeera

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