SAA denies putting inexperienced people in charge amid workers’ strike

Hundreds of SAA employees went on strike last Friday over wages and planned restructuring at the airline.

Numsa and South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) members picket at the SAA Airways Park in Kempton Park on 15 November 2019. Picture: Xanderleigh Dookey/EWN

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN - South African Airways (SAA) has slammed allegations that its planes are being operated by inexperienced people while the majority of its workers are on strike.

Hundreds of SAA employees went on strike last Friday over wages and planned restructuring at the airline.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) warned passengers not to fly SAA, claiming the carrier is relying on inexperienced workers to fill the posts left vacant by strikers.

But the embattled airline has dismissed the claim, insisting the safety of its customers is its top priority.

SAA chief commercial officer Philip Saunders.

“Let me be absolutely clear, the safety and security of our passengers and our crews is the priority of the SAA and it has been since this airline was founded in 1934.”

While domestic flights remain grounded, SAA's international services have resumed, and some continental flights will take off on Tuesday.

The SAA said it would re-book passengers on regional routes that remained affected by the strike while domestic passengers would continue to be transferred to sister airlines Mango and SA Airlink.

The embattled national carrier announced on Monday that it will resume flights to six African destinations, as not all unions and union members have joined the strike over wages and restructuring.

SAA has cancelled hundreds of flights since the strike began, saying the stoppage is costing R50 million per day jeopardising talks with lenders.

The industrial action has cast doubt on the very survival of the airline, which hasn't turned a profit since 2011 and is reliant on bailouts from the taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Parliament's public enterprises committee has reacted to the ongoing SAA strike calling on the airline and management to find a lasting solution to end the labour action.

This follows the threat by striking unions that they'll shut down South Africa's entire aviation industry on Sunday by extending the strike beyond the state-run SAA.

The chairperson of the portfolio committee on public enterprises Khaya Magaxa noted with concern the utterances made by trade unions currently engaged in the SAA strike.

Magaxa said the recent reports urging South Africans not to fly with SAA were reckless and sabotaged the national carrier.

He said in a statement that while the committee supported the rights of employees to strike, it was irresponsible for the unions to claim flights would be operated by short-term contracted personnel without the requisite experience.

The Democratic Alliance also added its voice with chief whip Natasha Mazzone saying it’s time for government to seriously consider SAA’s future and to consider partial or full privatisation of the struggling airline.