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SAA chief warns strikes threaten carrier's survival

South African Airways' acting chief has warned that continued strikes will deepen the airline's financial crisis, after flights were disrupted by industrial action.

Zuks Ramasia says the carrier's financial position is already "precarious" and that strikes will have "dire ramifications" that will "without doubt place SAA's future in jeopardy".

While the action by cabin crew union SACCA and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is already problematic, Ramasia is concerned about the possibility of the strike broadening to include transport unions SATUWU and NTM.

She says such an escalation, into a "full-on aviation strike", could bring all airport operations to a standstill and cause "huge damage" to South Africa's economy.

The flag-carrier has managed to reinstate flights to a number of international destinations, having decided that it has sufficient numbers of personnel for the operations, and has been trying to use capacity on Mango Airlines and Airlink to maintain services on other routes.

Evidence that relations between SAA and the unions is deteriorating has emerged with Ramasia accusing the unions of spreading untruthful allegations about the safety of the airline, and threatening legal action.

"SAA is mindful of its obligations to comply with all regulations and continue to ensure safe and secure operations," she says. "SAA will therefore maintain the required levels of personnel, including oversight post holders and necessary compliance training during this strike period."

Ramasia points out that SAA's pilots are not on strike and that it is using trained cabin crew, who meet regulatory requirements, on its services.

The industrial action also appears to be causing divisions within staff ranks. Ramasia warns that the airline's management will not tolerate intimidation against personnel who opt not to strike.

"We will always protect our employees’ right to decide for themselves and serve our customers," she says, adding that any employees engaging in misconduct or criminal behaviour may be liable for arrest or prosecution.

"Striking is a personal choice. No one should be pressured by a union or striker to participate in the strike."

The SACCA and NUMSA unions have demanded an 8% salary increase, but the carrier says it cannot afford any rise in wages.

SAA is, however, offering a 5.9% rise from March 2020 and to provide back-pay around this date if it has received the necessary funds.

The airline says it is restoring flights from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, New York, London, Frankfurt, Munich and Washington DC on 17 November, and to Perth and Hong Kong on 18 November.

"We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations were beyond our control," says SAA chief commercial officer Philip Saunders. "We pledged to rebook all passengers caught up in the flight cancellations."

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