Strike begins at South Africa’s state-owned airline

International

Members of the South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa members picket at the SAA Airways Park in Kempton Park, South Africa, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. South Africa’s troubled state-owned airline has begun canceling flights after two unions announced their workers would go on strike to protest nearly 1,000 expected job cuts. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Workers began striking Friday at South Africa’s troubled state-owned airline over nearly 1,000 expected job cuts, with flights now canceled until at least Tuesday.

South African Airways, Africa’s second-largest carrier, has warned that the strike “endangers the future of the airline.” It will cost it about 50 million rand ($3.3 million) a day, board member Martin Kingston said this week.

The airline is among a number of debt-ridden state-owned enterprises that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is trying to revive after widespread mismanagement and corruption under the previous administration.

Thousands of workers at the companies, anticipating restructuring, fear job cuts in a country where unemployment is the highest in a decade at just over 29%.

South African Airways canceled nearly all the international and domestic flights it operates on Friday and Saturday and has now extended that to Sunday and Monday. International destinations include New York, London and Hong Kong.

The South African Cabin Crew Association and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa announced the strike shortly after the airline said it was launching a restructuring process that could affect nearly 950 employees.

The airline, which has received several government bailouts, says its challenges include insufficient revenue and an aging fleet. It also currently lacks a permanent CEO and this week was warned by lawmakers over its failure to submit audited financial statements.

The company, which has lost more than 28 billion rand ($1.8 billion) over the past 13 years, received little sympathy from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in remarks to parliament last month.

Noting South Africa’s gaping inequality a quarter-century after the end of the harsh system of racial segregation known as apartheid, Mboweni said the government had long chosen to subsidize the flights of the “middle class and wealthy” instead of those who “got stuck in old trains and were late for work.”

The finance minister said South Africa’s government can no longer afford to throw money at such enterprises including struggling state-owned power utility Eskom, which announced losses of more than 20 billion rand ($1.3 billion) last fiscal year.

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