Air Zimbabwe pilots and cabin crew go on strike over pay dispute

airzim_flightThousands of air travellers face lengthy delays and cancellations after Air Zimbabwe pilots and cabin crew went on strike on Wednesday over pay and conditions.

The national carrier was forced to cancel all its domestic and international flights while the Harare-Johannesburg route remained open, though with limited flights, owing to a leased aircraft servicing the route.

The airline is in the process of trying to lease a much bigger aircraft to operate the Harare-London route in an effort to minimise disruptions for the travellers, a source told us. The Harare-London route is the airlines most lucrative followed by the Harare-Johannesburg one.

The highly placed source told us the pilots were protesting what their union called the lowest wages among the major airlines in the region. Before the dollarisation of the economy, a captain at the airline was getting an equivalent of between US$5000-7000 while first officers were getting a salary of between $3000-5000 a month.

The troubled airline could not sustain these salaries in U.S. dollars and decided to cut them in February to $1,200 a month. The countrys sole airline is reportedly broke and running on deficit and it is reported the airline owes its pilots $1,2 million in salary arrears as they never agreed to the cuts.

The national airline is a perennial loss-maker weighed down by an ageing fleet, debt and the effects of a decade-long economic crisis in the country. The airline operates two long haul Boeing 767 planes and three Boeings 737 for domestic and regional flights, all purchased in the 1980s.

Representatives of the pilots, cabin crew and top management were locked in a series of meetings in Harare on Thursday. When SW Radio Africa contacted the office of the Chief Executive Officer, Peter Chikumba, we were told he had gone for a meeting with Transport Minister Nicholas Goche.

Air Zimbabwe has long exhausted the good credit rating it inherited from Air Rhodesia in 1980 after independence. It has, in the past decade, relied on government handouts, mostly from the controversial Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, to run its ageing fleet after the hostile macro-economic conditions hit hard on its coffers.

In a bid to cut costs the airline has indicated plans to lay off over 500 of its workers, with whom it currently is locked in a bitter labour dispute. The workers are fiercely resisting involuntary leave ranging between three to 12 months.

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