South African Airways (SAA) and unions on Saturday met for talks on the troubled state-run carrier; which hopes to bring an end to a crippling strike that it says could push it to collapse.
Unions representing more than half of SAA’s workforce called the strike from Friday, forcing SAA to cancel hundreds of flights. According to the protesters they would continue until their demands were met.
The airline said the action would cost it 50 million rand ($3.36 million) per day.
The talks will be mediated by dispute resolution body ;The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The unions’ demands include an 8% wage increase, and they also object to SAA’s plan to cut over 900 jobs.
SAA, which hasn’t made a profit since 2011, needs to cut costs to turn around – a mammoth task complicated by the huge sensitivity of job cuts in a country where unemployment is already close to 30%.
Phakamile Hlubi Majola, spokeswoman for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), one of the unions that called the strike, said they also want SAA to commit to bringing costly outsourced services back in house, which are blowing a substantial hole in SAA’s budget.
SAA’s woes have left it reliant on state bailouts to survive, becoming a source of frustration for taxpayers who have forked out more than 30 billion rand since 2012 as well as for a cash-strapped government already propping up other ailing state firms.