SAA strike may spell disaster

The impact of the strike may be so devastating that the airline ends up losing a huge share of the market, the writer says.
The impact of the strike may be so devastating that the airline ends up losing a huge share of the market, the writer says.
Image: Gallo Images

South African Airways looks headed for a massive strike.

If the rhetoric of unions who represent staff at the national carrier is anything to go by, flights would be grounded as soon as workers down tools in their demand for salary increases and an end to planned retrenchments.

It is public knowledge that the state-owned airline is in serious financial crisis and that it remains a going concern only because of continued bail-outs from the government.

While we recognise the right of workers to demand better working conditions, we believe that embarking on strike action is not in the interest of any of the parties, especially the workers.

We are approaching the busy festive season where flights are in high demand. If SAA is grounded during this period due to its labour dispute, it is likely to lose a lot of business to its private sector rivals.

Now the unions may say this is exactly what they want: to hurt the employer in the pocket.

But given the company's current financial position, such losses may be too huge for the company to survive.

The impact of the strike may be so devastating that the airline ends up losing a huge share of the market, resulting in reduced revenue and forcing the management to cut more than the 944 jobs it has said it plans to retrench.

The worst-case scenario is that the airline would be forced to close shop and be sold to private business, which is something that will go against what the unions want - that it remain in state hands.

It is for these reasons that we believe that, instead of embarking on industrial action, the SAA staff and management should have urgent and frank discussions about what needs to be done to save the business.

It is in the interest of all parties to, first and foremost, ensure that the airline is sustainable. Jobs cannot be saved unless the business survives.

Clearly, some sacrifices would have to be made from all sides, and some would have to give up privileges they have enjoyed over the years at the company.

In the past, the two sides have been able to find each other, there is no reason it cannot be done now. The very survival of the airline is dependent on it.

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