A STRIKE over union recognition at South African Airways (SAA) was suspended on Friday after new union the National Transport Movement (NTM) reached an interim agreement with SAA CEO Vuyisile Kona, the union said.

The union has been lobbying the state-owned carrier for basic recognition within the organisation, which included union due deductions on pay slips, as well as for a seat within the bargaining council, Liver Mngomezulu, NTM’s deputy general secretary, said on Friday.

"There is no reason why they will not recognise us, even the commissioner said we must be recognised," Mr Mngomezulu said, referring to a commissioner from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

"We have 1,111 permanent employees, 17 managers and a further 189 fixed-term employees. We have more members than other unions that are recognised," he said.

"They must give us all rights, recognise our shop stewards and deduct our subscriptions, and yet they have not done that, they have been giving our members’ dues to rival unions," he said.

About 80% of the members had stayed away from work on Friday, he said, but at midday the strike was called off and members were "encouraged" to return to work after the agreement with Mr Kona was reached.

SAA’s operations had not been disrupted, SAA spokeswoman Dileseng Koetle said.

The airline had "activated its contingency plan" to ensure business continuity and no customers had been affected by the strike, Ms Koetle said.

A "handful of people" were protesting outside SAA’s head office in Kempton Park, she said, but it was "business as usual" at the airline.

Information on how many people were absent from work on Friday was being collated, Ms Koetle said, and had not been made available yet from the human resources office.

SAA said in a statement that after a series of meetings in December with the NTM at the CCMA, the union had failed to gain recognition within the bargaining unit of the airline because it lacked sufficient members.

"The (CCMA) commissioner confirmed in his report that the union has 1,111 members and needed to have 1,220 to meet 30% of the 4,065 employees who are part of the bargaining unit," the airline said.

The report confirmed "that NTM failed to meet the 30% threshold", SAA said.

Mr Mngomezulu said SAA was being "economic with the truth" as NTM’s membership was now at 1,332 members and did not include new members who had joined in the past weeks.

"What they did not tell you is that the commissioner said we must be recognised," he said. "Even if we did not have the sufficient number of members to be on the bargaining council, they should still have recognised us as a union. Solidarity has 240 something members and they are recognised," Mr Mngomezulu said.

"The CEO was not aware of our situation, we will meet with him again today and on Monday he will meet with his exco (executive committee) to understand what has happened. By Tuesday we should be recognised because we have followed the letter of the law," he said.