November 13, 2019 / 1:54 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 2-South Africa's SAA says strike could push airline towards collapse

* Government trying to save loss-making SAA

* Airline plans to cut more than 900 jobs

* Unions plan strike on Friday (Updates after SAA statement)

By Naledi Mashishi

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 13 (Reuters) - South African Airways (SAA) said on Wednesday it might never recover if a strike by labour unions goes ahead this week, underscoring how close the state-owned company is to collapse.

Unions representing around 3,000 of SAA’s 5,000-strong workforce said on Wednesday that cabin crew and other workers at SAA would go on strike on Friday over the airline’s refusal to give in to salary hikes and its plan to cut more than 900 jobs.

SAA has not made an annual profit since 2011, is without a permanent chief executive and has yet to file results for the two most recent financial years because of concerns about its viability as a business.

It is being supported by repeated government bailouts, but Finance Minister Tito Mboweni wants ailing state firms to cut costs to help him rein in ballooning budget deficits.

SAA’s acting CEO Zuks Ramasia said in a statement that the airline had made overtures to unions to resolve a wage impasse and get their buy-in for a turnaround plan.

But she said the strike would “exacerbate rather than ameliorate our problem, and will result in a set of circumstances from which there may well be no recovery”.

Unions say the strike will begin at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Friday. They are calling on SAA’s check-in, ticket sales, head office, technical staff and ground staff to take part.

“We want all workers to participate in the strike. We will ground the airline come Friday. The strike will be an indefinite strike until these people come to the table,” the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (NUMSA) Irvin Jim told a news conference.

Unions blamed the airline’s financial constraints on “ongoing corruption and mismanagement” and called for the entire board of directors to step down.

“The board of SAA must be removed because they are at the heart of the crisis. They failed in their fiduciary duties to ensure that the airline operates profitably,” NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association said in a joint statement.

In October, SAA and other carriers grounded aircraft and cancelled domestic flights after the aviation regulator found faults at SAA’s maintenance unit.

In a dramatic fall from grace over the past decade, SAA lost its place as Africa’s biggest airline. Analysts have long said its workforce should be cut to bring it in line with regional competitors.

Additional reporting by Mfuneko Toyana Editing by Alexander Winning and Edmund Blair

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