National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola urged South Africans not to fly with South African Airways on Sunday afternoon, following the national carrier’s announcement that international flights would be reinstated.
Hlubi-Majola said these flights would be operated by short-term contracted personnel that did not have the requisite experienced to safely and properly manage flights, saying that to fly SAA would be a safety risk.
NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association are striking at SAA, an increase of 8% across-the-board wage, job security for at least three years, and the in-sourcing of more staff. Management is offering 5.9%.
Hlubi-Majola levelled the stark warning to a media briefing held at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday afternoon.
"We are warning all passengers not to fly SAA, because your safety cannot be guaranteed. Our members are on strike. Learners in the technical environment and other staff are being used to fly aircraft without having the requisite experience. Some are on two-week contracts," said Hlubi-Majola.
Hlubi-Majola said union members’ jobs were being undermined by the leadership at SAA, the longer that the national carrier refused to concede to the unions demands and projecting jobs.
"The board and executive management are hell bent on destroying this business. It is up to us as unions and workers to ensure that we save this airline," she said.
NUMSA chair at SAA Technical, Areheng Ndlovu, said aircraft must not be allowed to fly an aircraft without the sign-off of a technician like him. He accused SAA leadership of negotiating deals that will privatise the airline at the expense of labour.
"The fight is not among us as workers. We have South African government that is sitting and watching this situation and letting this carry on so that they can benefit. We are talking about those in leadership," said Ndlovu.
Meanwhile SAA announced through a statement earlier in the day that it would reinstate international flights to seven international destinations from Sunday evening.
Passengers have been asked to report to their departure airport as normal when in possession of a rebooked itinerary.
The statement said this decision was taken after assessment of its personnel numbers showed adequate capacity, availability and willingness to operate flights.
"Whilst some employees are on strike and have elected to do so in exercising their rights, the airline has a duty to render services to its customers where it has employees who have elected to report for work," the statement said.
Opposing job cuts
South African Transport and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Zanele Sabela told Fin24 that the unions would head to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration on Tuesday to oppose the national carrier’s planned retrenchments.
SATAWU, Solidarity and Uasa union are currently not engaged in a strike at SAA.
*This article has been amended to reflect that NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said SAA is enlisting learners in the technical staff environment, and not learner pilots, as originally stated. We regret the error.