This is according to news from Air Transport World. As a result, South African Airways (SAA) is threatening legal action over these union claims. The airline is in the midst of a strike with numerous flights having been cancelled. In fact, the airline estimates that the strike will cost it as much as $3.4m per day.
At the core of the strike is an ongoing pay dispute between the South African flag carrier and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) as well as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). The November 15th strike forced South African Airways to ground most of its flights.
See National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) accusations and responses
“We are warning passengers not to fly SAA, because their safety cannot be guaranteed,” -NUMSA Spokesperson
The acting CEO of South African Airways Zuks Ramasia issued a public statement reacting to the claims of safety.
“We call on NUMSA and SACCA to retract these untrue and unfounded allegations with immediate effect. If they fail to do so, we will consider taking legal action…The airline will not tolerate those seeking to intimidate those wishing to report for duty. Employees who intimidate or assault other employees, cause damage to SAA property, or engage in any criminal act or misconduct may be liable for criminal prosecution, internal disciplinary action or arrested,”.
Calling the union claims “malicious”, Ramasia added also emphasized that South African Airways will not compromise on safety and security. The threat of legal action has not silenced NUMSA.
Below is a November 18th Twitter post by the union, doubling-down on their allegations:
NUMSA and SACCA will not withdraw or retract our statement. If you fly SAA while we are on strike you are gambling with your life. @flysaa is depending on inexperienced staff 2 repair & maintain the flights. Learners with no flight experience are safety officer's. @BBCNews @AFP— NUMSA (@Numsa_Media) November 18, 2019
“The airline cannot afford to pay any salary increases. However, it has offered the unions a 5.9% salary increase effective in the March 2020 pay month. In addition, the company will pay the first six months back-pay, from April 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2019, in March 2020; and the remaining six months back-pay in April 2020, provided that South African Airways has received funds to do so,” -Zuks Ramasia.
The airline has since resumed its long-haul services with some regional routes recommencing today. Negotiations over pay have been ongoing with the airline in the difficult situation of low profitability. According to SAA, NUMSA and SACCA seek an 8% salary increase. The airline insists that these demands cannot be met as it is also in the midst of restructuring.
NUMSA refutes the fact that SAA is unable to pay up. In a November 16th statement on Twitter the union said the following:
Wrong again. SAA just gave pilots a 5.9% increase in their salaries. They can certainly afford to pay workers the increase. And if they insource, which is one of our crucial demands, they can also save the airline from bankruptcy.#SAAStrike https://t.co/XTI6xwO3o4— NUMSA (@Numsa_Media) November 16, 2019
While flight service has resumed, the unions are looking to escalate their protests. In fact, this may include a sectorwide strike, effectively extending the job action to all areas of South Africa’s aviation industry. Every strike raises the risk of crippling the airline.