Strike spawns chaos at SA airports

The Department of Labour has intervened in Friday’s crippling South African Airways (SAA) strike, the United Association of SA (Uasa) trade union said.

General manager Andre Venter said this followed a request to Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana to put pressure on SAA management to resume wage talks.

The ministry agreed and called on SAA and the unions to engage in negotiations.

The strike has seen 31 domestic flights and 12 international flights cancelled. These included Nairobi, São Paulo, Harare, Windhoek, Victoria Falls and two flights to Lagos.

Flights to Lusaka, Nairobi and Entebbe were cancelled. A queue snaking about 200m awaited passengers at the international departures hall at Johannesburg International airport.

Officials earlier assured awaiting passengers that no flights were being cancelled but delays would be inevitable.

SAA confirmed in a statement it had cancelled “some” of its domestic flights on Friday morning because of a pay strike by ground staff and cabin crew.

The airline advised passengers to make alternative flight arrangements for Friday.

“Passengers are advised to make alternative travel arrangements for today [Friday], as indications are that the airline’s schedule will not run as normal,” SAA said in a statement on Friday morning.

“Disruption to passengers are being kept at a minimal with SAA’s management present at all domestic airports that SAA serves, and passengers [are] being accommodated on other airlines,” it said.

By 9am on Friday Mubiru Richard had spent three hours waiting for the international SAA flight to Uganda.

Richard, like hundreds of others, was caught up in the airline employees’ pay strike which began on Friday.

SAA officials were walking up and down the queue handing out pamphlets to inform people of the strike and its effects.

“We would like to assure our passengers that we have put contingency plans in place to minimise disruptions. We encourage passengers who are able to do so to make alternative travel plans or delay their travel intended for the next few days,” the SAA pamphlet read.

According to the officials, travellers were being accommodated on various other airlines and flights to Maputo, Victoria Falls and Gaborone had departed successfully.

“I still have no indication that I will be going,” said Richard.

“They are just picking out people from the queue [for seats on other airlines].”

Another passenger, George Pillay, said he was very upset and hungry but wouldn’t dare leave the queue in fear of losing his place.

“I don’t know what’s happening—I’m worried and it’s getting late. I don’t know if we are going to reach our destination.”

He was due to travel to São Paulo.

Goretti Kyomuhendo, also waiting for a flight to Uganda, said she was scared that she would have to spend a night or two stuck in Johannesburg. She had been standing in the queue since 6am.

The long queues and delays were causing a shortage of trolleys.

“People in the queues are hanging onto their trolleys,” said Airports Company of SA spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan.

They were trying to “redeploy” trolleys and taken them to the international section, where passengers tended to have more luggage.

“We are aware of this are doing as best as we can,” she said.

The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) also joined the strike.

Satawu general secretary Randall Howard said flights from Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth were also affected.

He did not know how long the strike would last.

“We have not discussed the duration of the strike. We tend not to do that,” he said on Friday.

“We are going out on the basis that we would like matters settled as quickly as possible. We are still prepared to have negotiations today [Friday]. It’s not a question of a day but of how quickly we can get together with management.”

Venter said Uasa had been in contact with SAA management and the protocols related to such a meeting were being ironed out.

“From our side, we are very eager,” he said.

The request to the minister was made by the Federation of Unions of SA, Uasa’s umbrella body.

Venter said meetings scheduled for 2pm and 5pm respectively on Thursday had been cancelled, with SAA saying it was sticking to its latest pay offer.

Uasa is demanding an eight percent increase while SAA has offered five percent.

The Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) said on Friday it had been approached to intervene, in terms of Section 150 of the Labour Relations Act.

Conciliator Mahomed Rajah was on standby for this purpose, said CCMA spokesperson Lusanda Myoli.

Transport and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Ronnie Mamba confirmed the union had been approached by the CCMA and were considering its response.

A group of about 500 union members were also picketing outside SAA headquarters. - Sapa

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