South African Airways hit by crippling strike

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South African Airways workers yesterday embarked on an indefinite strike for higher wages and against the national carrier’s overhaul plan, forcing the cash-strapped airline to ground hundreds of flights.

The stoppage has forced South Africa’s largest carrier to cancel more than 300 domestic and regional flights between Friday and Monday.

The company has asked travellers who had flights booked not to turn up at airports and offered them a chance to re-book for free or to fly on other flights operated by partner airlines.

It however said it was making plans to resume international flights by Sunday night. “The airline is pleased to announce that it is aiming to operate all international flights with effect from Sunday 17 November 2019 and customers should report to the airport as normal,” it said in a statement.

More than 3,000 workers, including cabin crew, check-in, ticket sales, technical and ground staff are taking part in the open-ended, according to unions.

Hundreds of placard-waving workers picketed outside the SAA head office near OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg – one of the continent’s busiest airport – singing and dancing.

“We will continue with the strike (until demands are met),” Sifiso Mabena, an aircraft mechanic at the airport told AFP. Unions pressed on with the walkout after talks with management deadlocked. President of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi however said a new round of mediated talks with the airline is expected on today.

“We have always and will always be willing to negotiate and talk to management, we have told them this time and time again,” Nsibanyoni-Mugambi told AFP.

“We are hoping these talks will bear fruit,” said Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokeswoman of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said to eNCA television network.