SAA strike to disrupt Johannesburg airport

Flights at Johannesburg International airport will be disrupted when aviation members of the United Association of South Africa (Uasa) embark on industrial action from Wednesday after a deadlock in negotiations, Uasa said on Tuesday.

Uasa is the largest representative union of ground staff and cabin crew at South African Airways (SAA).

“We gave SAA notice yesterday [Monday] to embark on industrial action after 48 hours,” Uasa official Gerhard Ueckermann told reporters on Tuesday.

“The reason we declared a dispute is because last year we received a 6,2% increase when the company [SAA] had a deficit ... and this year we are getting less when the company reported a profit of R8-billion.”

Uasa is demanding an 8% increase, and SAA is offering 5%. A meeting between both parties on Friday with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) failed.

Ueckermann said the union wanted to resolve the strike within the 48-hour notice period, but had not heard from the airline.

He said SAA had originally offered a 4,2% increase plus a medical and housing subsidy.

“This morning [Tuesday] they offered a 5% increase, but they are taking away the housing and medical benefits.”

Maryna Kleynhans, an official of the Aviation Working Unit (Aiwu)—a registered sector of Uasa—said the action will be a “grasshopper strike”, as striking will occur on various days.

All incoming and outgoing domestic flights and outgoing international flights will be disrupted.

“But we will not disrupt incoming flights from overseas [and African international flights].”

Kleynhans could not say when the strike will end.

“The intention is to be long enough to be effective. Whatever is effective to get the point across.”

She said the union met the CCMA on Tuesday afternoon to discuss picketing rules and other issues.

Members of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), Uasa’s umbrella body, are also supporting the strike.

“We believe our demands to be reasonable. We call on SAA to engage with the union. We are responsible, but we are getting pushed too far. SAA must be reciprocating or it will be a crippling strike ... so rather lets resolve this issue in an amicable way,” said Fedusa spokesperson Chez Milani.

Earlier in July, SAA reported a net profit of R966-million for the year ending June 30, up from an R8,6-billion loss last year.

Meanwhile, SAA has assured its passengers that contingency plans have been made to minimise disruptions of its services.

“We encourage passengers who are able to do so to make alternative travel plans or delay their travel intended for the next few days,” said Viwe Mlenzana, the airline’s acting general manager of human resources.

“We are disappointed that our protracted wage negotiations over the previous months had to result in some members of our cabin crew and ground staff opting for the choice to go on strike.”

Mlenzana said the decision by Aiwu and the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union to strike does not take into account the negative long-term effects of such action.

“Combined with the state of the aviation industry, oil prices and cost measures which we have embarked on to remain profitable exacerbate the situation, especially as we are only beginning to recover from a multibillion-rand loss.”

He said SAA is willing to implement the 5% increase immediately, should the unions or any employees accept the offer.

Mlenzana said SAA acknowledges that its employees have the right to industrial action.

“The company also underwrites the principle of no work, no pay.”—Sapa

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