SAA pilots threaten first-ever strike

The South African Airways Pilots’ Association says that a majority of its members are in favour of going on strike to force change within the struggling national flag carrier.

The association on Thursday shared the results of internal survey of its members, which it said was carried out by an independent service provider.

Four out of five pilots (516 out of a total of 635) responded to the survey. Of these 90% said they were in favour of "engaging in protected industrial action to enforce a higher standard within SAA," said Saapa. 

"It needs to be understood that the decision to embark on industrial action is not one that the pilots of SAA will take lightly. Indeed, if such a strike is embarked upon, it would be for the first time in SAA’s 80-year history," Saapa said in a statement.

"The pilots of SAA and the leadership of Saapa cannot allow SAA to continue as if it is business as usual. Our numerous engagements with the Company have not yielded outcomes that give us confidence in the future of the airline."

SAA leadership on Friday said it was "disappointed" the matter was in the public domain while it "continue[s] to engage meaningfully with Saapa on a number of issues".

"We are in the middle of the negotiation process and we would prefer to see that the process run its natural course before any statements are made by the parties," it said. 

To "set the record straight," the airline said it was aware of the need to urgently turn the flag carrier around, and had taken steps to boost capacity and strengthen management.  "It is in no one’s interest to embark on industrial action," it added. 

Capital injections 

The debt-laden airline has secured a R5.5bn capital injection from National Treasury to continue functioning, and says it may need up to R21.7bn in total to break even by 2020/21. 

The association said that among the demands it had previously shared with SAA leadership was the appointment of a skilled permanent CEO who has experience in turning an airline around,  the appointment of an active or retired pilot to the airline's board, and a broad skills audit. The airline has been without a permanent CEO since Vuyani Jarana announced his resignation in the same month.

Saapa previously threatened to strike in June, when interim CEO Zukisa Ramasia was appointed.

The association said on Thursday that if SAA does not seriously consider its demands, "we will be left with no choice".

"Our pilots have indicated that – if necessary – they are willing to embark on lawful industrial action to save the airline."

It did not say when such a strike could take place. 

* This article wad updated to include SAA's response

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