SAA grounded some of its aircraft on 22 October 2019. Photo: Flickr/Klaus Brandmaier

SAA strike: Police patrol airports as crowds of protesters gather

More than 200 flights have had to be cancelled.


SAA grounded some of its aircraft on 22 October 2019. Photo: Flickr/Klaus Brandmaier

The South African Airways (SAA) strike, which has led to the grounding of almost all the national carrier’s flights, is well and truly underway.

In addition to SAA being forced to cancel its weekend flight plan, major airports around the country are having to contend with striking workers who have gathered at OR Tambo in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport. While the latter presents a mild contingent of disgruntled workers, police in Johannesburg are patrolling the Kempton Park precinct.

EFF expected to join the SAA strike

It’s been reported that a large crowd – made up of union members, dissatisfied employees and followers of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – would descend on South Africa’s busiest airport on Friday.

The stalemate – which, according to SAA, is likely to the final nail in the state owned enterprise’s mismanaged coffin – emanates from a bitter wage dispute, compounded by a retrenchment strategy which would see almost 1000 employees lose their jobs within the first few months of 2020.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) argue that the restructuring process needn’t cost people their jobs, despite SAA suffering dire financial losses and pleading with government for an urgent R2 billion bailout. Unions further allege that SAA, through its retrenchment programme, is attempting to scare its members into submission.

It’s also been alleged, by both unions and the EFF, that the restructuring process is fundamentally a ploy to privatise the national carrier.

The Red Berets, on Thursday, vowed to support the unions in their strike by deploying ‘ground forces’ to all major airports. Striking parties have warned that they would not surrender until their demands had been met.

Wage disputes and job losses

The primary demand, in addition to halting retrenchments, is for a wage increase of 8%. SAA, however, says that it cannot afford more than 5.9%. Worse still, is the looming prospect of complete operational collapse as a result of the strike action. The SAA board has warned that grounding all its services for a weekend would effectively destroy the airline, financially.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed that more than 200 flights had to be cancelled. The strike is expected to cost the carrier in excess of R100 million at a time when SAA is buckling under debt.

Unions confirmed that more than 3000 SAA employees were expected to join the nationwide strike.