South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) chief executive Vuyani Jarana has confirmed the ailing state-owned carrier will be undertaking job cuts as part of its restructuring plans.

While he did not put a figure to the proposed redundancies, Reuters cites informed sources as saying SAA will cut between 1,000 and 1,500 people via a combination of layoffs and voluntary redundancies.

The numbers include about 300 flight attendants, according to one of the sources. Another source said the carrier's 700-strong pilot corps had been encouraged to look for jobs elsewhere with Emirates (EK, Dubai Int'l) a particularly keen taker.

On Monday, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA said in a statement that it had received notice of the retrenchment of 118 of SAA catering unit Air Chef’s 1,200-strong workforce, which it would oppose.

However, SAA spokesman Tlali Tlai has since denied the figure put forward by NUMSA claiming that no firm numbers have yet been settled upon.

Given the sensitive nature of the restructuring plan, SAA executives have taken the unusual step of hiring personal bodygaurds at a cost of ZAR35 million rand (USD2.66 million). In April, Jarana justified the move as a response to threats directed at executives looking into wrongdoing at the state-owned airline.

"As early as December last year, some of the executives started receiving threats as we started executing the work of change...on the forensic report. Those were reported accordingly to police," Jarana told a Parliamentary standing committee on public accounts.

"At the time, I approached the board and said here is the issue of risk, and taking into account the state of SAA at the time around the levels of trust, both in terms of intent and competence, I felt this was an issue that has to be dealt with by the board."