SAA cancels more domestic flights as strikers vow not to back down

15 November 2019 - 15:49
By Nonkululeko Njilo
SAA check-in counters at Cape Town International Airport were empty as day one of a strike by unions got under way.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times SAA check-in counters at Cape Town International Airport were empty as day one of a strike by unions got under way.

Airport workers affiliated to the National Union of Mineworkers (Numsa) said they will not back down until their demands for in-sourcing and for a 8% wage hike are met. 

This comes as 3,000 workers downed their tools on Friday and put operations at the national carrier, SA Airways (SAA), at a standstill. Hundreds of passengers were left stranded in airports across the country.

The embattled airline announced on Friday it would resume with international flights on Sunday, but domestic flights would remain cancelled.

All SAA flights were initially cancelled for Friday and Saturday ahead of the strike action.

“The airline is pleased to announce it is aiming to operate all international flights departing from OR Tambo International Airport, with effect from Sunday November 17 2019. Customers should report to OR Tambo International Airport as normal,” said SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali.

The airline announced that departures from SAA’s international stations, including London, New York, Washington, Munich, Frankfurt and Hong Kong, were expected to operate from Monday November 18 2019.

“The first departure from São Paulo is expected to operate on Sunday, November 17 2019.  The first departure from Perth is expected to operate on Tuesday, November 19 2019,” said Tlali.

At OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Friday, passengers from across the world gathered in groups with their luggage. Some were accommodated on alternative airlines, while the majority remained stranded. Some had their airfares refunded.

Tlali said SAA had partnered with its sister airline, Mango Airlines, to accommodate as many customers as possible travelling on domestic services.

An aviation operator at OR Tambo, Tumelo Monageng, was among those protesting at Airways Park in Johannesburg.

"This protest is to say enough is enough. We have a number of issues, the most burning being the wage issue and corruption. We won't stop until something happens," he said.

I would rather be retrenched than be used.
Aviation operator, Tumelo Monageng

Monageng said he would rather be jobless than continue working for the airline.

“I would rather be retrenched than be used,” he said.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said: "Our demands are very simple. We want SAA to commit to insourcing. We will remain on strike until we can agree and sign. If not, we will remain on strike and we will shutdown SAA tomorrow, on Sunday even on Monday."  

Hlubi-Majola said some progress had been made.

"South African Airways Technical has reached out to us. They said they want to meet us on Tuesday. They want us to help with this demand for insourcing. For us that’s a very positive demand.

"We want SAA to respond the same way, to show a commitment," she said.