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S.Africa unions threaten to ‘shut down’ aviation sector

South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.

The country’s embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday — forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.

Talks with unions ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.

“In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers’ union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation,” NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters in front of the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.

Unions first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.

Talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting unions to press on with their threats.

SAA is offering a 5.9 percent pay rise, while unions are demanding an eight percent across-the-board hike and a three-year guarantee of job security.

“We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation,” said Hlubi-Majola, speaking at a media briefing broadcast on local television.

She told journalists discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa’s airport management company and airline service providers were underway.

“The secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector,” said Hlubi-Majola.

SAA did not immediately respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

The company — one of the biggest airlines in Africa — is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.