Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has warned that, while two unions at South African Airways (SAA) are demanding salary increases for members, the airline might not even be able to pay any salaries at the end of the month.
The minister was speaking at a Parliamentary briefing on Wednesday. The meeting was called for feedback on power utility Eskom, but Gordhan - who met with unions on Tuesday - also made some remarks about SA's cash-strapped national airline.
The minister said the strike was worsening the airline's financial crisis. "SAA doesn't have enough cash to possibly even pay salaries at the end of the month," he said. "Not only will people not get increases but they might not even get their salaries," he added.
Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association have been on strike since Friday over wages, proposed job cuts and the demand that more workers be insourced. On Wednesday afternoon negotiations still remained deadlocked.
SAA, which has had to ground a number of domestic and regional flights due to the industrial action, has said it cannot afford to the 8% wage increase demanded by unions, offering a 5.9% hike from 2020. This has been rejected by unions.
Gordhan - who has ruled out another bailout for SAA - said government would try to see if it is possible to "get some assistance" but this depended on the parties being able to reach some type of understanding. According to the minister, the unions and SAA have both agreed to a mediator to facilitate negotiations.
He added it must be understood that even if a salary increase is agreed to, the money to pay for it is not available now.
Earlier on Wednesday Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, addressing protesting workers in Kempton Park, said a notice of intent to strike had been issued to Comair as part of a secondary strike. A separate notice has been issued to Air Chefs, which provides in-flight catering for SAA.
Comair, which operates its own low-cost brand, kulula.com, as well as British Airways in South Africa as part of a license agreement, told Fin24 on Wednesday that it has contingency plans in place should any of its ground or cabin crew go on a secondary strike.
According to Comair, Numsa has been issued two certificates of non-resolution for disputes pertaining to both Comair's ground and cabin crew.
"Before embarking on a strike, Numsa has to conduct a secret ballot of its members, and thereafter give Comair 48 hours' notice. Comair has not yet received the required 48 hours' notice," the airline said. "Comair has contingency plans in place, should our ground and/or cabin crew choose to exercise their right to strike."
SAA did not immediately reply to a request for comment about whether it had received a notice of intent to strike at its subsidiary Air Chefs.