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SAA staff on strike three weeks after flights resume

Union members picketed South Africa’s recently resuscitated national airline on Tuesday, complaining about working conditions less than three weeks after the carrier resumed flights following bankruptcy proceedings.

South African Airways (SAA) emerged from a 17-month business rescue this year with hundreds of jobs slashed and a fleet slimmed from 46 to six planes.

It was grounded for a year-and-a-half and only resumed services at the end of September.

But remaining staff are disillusioned with the company, prompting action from their representatives.

Staff and unionists protested outside the airline’s offices in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“So many of the old SAA’s problems have been carried over into the new airline,” said a joint statement by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Cabin Crew Association.

The unions claim workers placed on a “training layoff scheme” were not re-hired, while others have seen their salaries and employment benefits cut.

SAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Once Africa’s second-largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, SAA had survived for decades on government bailouts and was shedding routes even before the pandemic hit.

It was hit by a crippling strike in November 2019, with workers demanding higher wages and protesting against planned job cuts, and placed under a state-approved business rescue plan the following month.

Two weeks ago SAA signed a cooperation agreement with Kenya Airways for a long-term plan to create a pan-African airline.