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South African state airline cabin crew trickle back as no-work, no-pay begins to bite

Cabin crew are returning to work at a growing pace as the one-week wage strike at SAA begins to bite with the imposition of a strict no-work, no-pay policy.

“For Wednesday and Thursday, we had 70 cabin crew returning to work. The quantification of actual losses (to workers of wages) will be worked out once the strike has ended.  What is clear is that a quarter of one’s salary is not an insignificant amount of money,” SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali told Fin24. 

The SABC is reporting that trade union Numsa is about to announce an end to the strike after a wage agreement was struck in marathon conciliation sessions to end the eight-day long strike at the national carrier.

SAA has resumed some operations this week and it announced yesterday that it would not be able to make payroll as the strike bites revenues – board member Martin Kingston said earlier in the week that the airline was losing some R50m a day due to the strike.

No more bailouts

Earlier in the week, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said no further bailouts could be expected from the government. Numsa has led the strike and is in alliance with the SA Cabin Crew Association, but the numbers returning suggest the alliance was fraying. 

Earlier in the week, Numsa announced that a secondary strike would be called at Air Chefs, the airline catering company owned by SAA. 

But airlines have shifted away from Air Chefs, meaning that the secondary strike would not have extended the aviation showdown and slowdown significantly.  “SAA is its biggest client,” said Tlali. Its only other clients are Swiss International, SA Express, Mango, Proflight Zambia (in Durban and Johannesburg) and BA in Durban. 

Neither Comair nor FlySafair, the major domestic competitor airlines to SAA, use Air Chefs. Comair is in a long-standing wage dispute with Numsa and a strike was narrowly averted in April when the airline interdicted the strike. There has not yet been a strike ballot at Comair, so there is no immediate threat of a strike although the airline’s schedules were impacted by the strike at SAA Technical which still services its aircraft. 

Numsa does not have a recognition agreement in place for cabin crew but it does have one for ground crew at Comair. The airline has contingency plans in place to keep flying should Numsa ballot successfully for a strike, it said in a statement.

“Comair anticipates to remain fully operational, should its ground and/or cabin crew choose to exercise their right to strike. However, the operations may become pressurised if industrial action continues for some time,” said a Comair spokesperson.


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