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South African Airlines In Crisis Mode As Workers Strike

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By Lisa Vives

Unions representing more than half of South African Airways (SAA) workforce called a strike last week after the airline refused to meet wage and job security demands.

The unions, representing more than 3,000 workers, walked out on November 15 after the state-owned airline rejected their demand for 8% raises, offering 5.9% instead. The airline is also planning to cut 944 positions. The strike forced the cancellation of most flights.

Now the National Union of Metalworkers is engaging its members at other airlines and companies that service the industry on whether they should stage sympathy strikes.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan indicated that it intends taking a hard line, saying South African Airlines isn’t too big to fail.

Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics , commented: “What began as a strike for higher pay at SAA has morphed into an ideological clash and a direct challenge to the government.” The airline said the action would cost it 50 million rand ($3.36m) a day.

The airline’s threatened job cuts come at a time when unemployment is already close to 30 percent. Workers say they should not be left holding the bag for years of management failures and poor governance.

Phakamile Hlubi Majola, spokeswoman for the National Union of Metalworkers, said they also want SAA to commit to bringing costly outsourced services back in house, which are blowing a substantial hole in SAA’s budget.

“Otherwise we’ll be right back here six months from now with them saying they’ve got no money,” she said, adding the unions could not move on other demands before this one was met.

Last month the government said it will repay SAA’s outstanding government-guaranteed debt of 9.2 billion rand ($629 million) – support that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the country could ill afford and had to come to an end.

“What is happening at SAA is an example of capitalism at its worst,” said Motebang Oupa Ralake, General Secretary of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party. A once viable state-owned entity is deliberately being hollowed out through theft and rampant looting. This is being done to collapse the airline, so that the capitalist cronies, connected to the ANC government in the form of the Rothschild family, can benefit from its collapse, and they can buy the airline at a vastly reduced price.”

“We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatization,” said the airline workers union. “We call on all our members in these companies to join in solidarity because the changes at SAA will be affecting them too. The airline can and must be saved, in order to preserve jobs along the value chain,” their statement said. 



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