South Africa

Bus Strike: Commuters stranded after wage talks deadlock

Thousands of commuters had to make alternative transport arrangements on Wednesday morning after talks between unions representing bus drivers and bus companies deadlocked. Bus drivers from at least 67 bus companies around the country were due to strike.

  Getting to work or long-distance travelling was tough this morning as bus drivers from 67 bus companies turned off their engines as a result of a dispute over working conditions and remuneration. Huge delays were reported in some parts of the country during rush hour this morning, with commuters forced to find other ways to get to work. The drivers work for companies providing municipal transport services such as the Tshwane Rapid Transit Bus Service and long-distance travel services such as Greyhound. Negotiations reached a stalemate after the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) and bus companies represented by the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobeo) and the South African Bus Employers Association (Sabea) failed to agree on several issues since January. The employers have pulled out of the talks. They are unhappy that unions served them with a 48-hour notice of strike. What that effectively means is the strike will go ahead,” Satawu spokesperson Zanele Sabela said. Unions had obtained a certificate to strike on 16 March, but said they could not immediately embark on a strike action because of a mandatory 30-day cooling off period.The mediation process has failed and a strike certificate was issued... The cooling period ends on 16 April where after both the union and employers could issue a 48-hour notice to strike or lock-out. In the event of the 48-hour notice being issued, the strike/lock-out will commence on 18 April for a national strike in the bus industry,” read a statement from the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council, a mediator in the talks. Unions and employer associations been unable to reach agreement on several areas. These include:

  • Salary increase: Unions are demanding a 12% increase while employers are offering a three-year agreement (7% across the board for the first year, 7.25% for the second and 7.5% for the third).
  • Minimum Wage: Unions want this to be set at R8,000 while employee associations have dug in their heels and insisted on a R6,070 minimum wage. Sabela said unions were also concerned that employers want any worker entering the industry for the first time after 1 April to be paid the R6,070 minimum wage regardless of whether the hiring company has a higher minimum wage. There are companies with a higher minimum wage,” he said.
  • Standby pay: Currently a driver is only paid for their hours behind the wheel despite being on stand-by should the other driver get tired. That’s ridiculous,” Sabela said, adding that “this thinking is obviously flawed because the driver cannot be elsewhere or do anything else but be on the bus from the time the trip commences”.
  • Night shift allowances: Drivers are currently paid R595 but insist that this is too little to cover overnight accommodation at even the cheapest places. “It’s just too little. Where have you slept for that amount? Often drivers are forced to sleep on the buses because they cannot afford accommodation.”
Bus companies that were affected include Putco, Metro Bus, Interstate, and Golden Arrow. Several of those have issued warnings of potential disruptions to their customers. Golden Arrow Bus Services said in a statement on Tuesday night that a company-wide lock-out would be implemented “in order to ensure the safety of our passengers and staff for the duration of the strike”.In the event of a strike, weekly and monthly clip cards that were valid when the strike commenced will be extended when the service resumes,” it said in a statement. Putco Bus Services said there was no means of providing alternative transport for their customers since they were one of the companies involved in the strike. Asked when services might resume, Putco spokesperson Witness Mhlongo said: “The situation is unpredictable, but negotiations will still continue during the strike.” The City of Cape Town also issued a statement alerting its 72,000 customers to the suspension of the MyCiTi Bus Services from midnight on Tuesday. Commuters had to rely on taxis or other means of transport to get to their destinations. Customers with monthly MyCiTi tickets will have their monthly packages extended to the number of days the strike lasts, the city said. The five stakeholder unions, including Satawu, Numsa, the Transport and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Tawusa), the Transport and Omnibus Workers Union (Towu), and the Transport and Services Workers Union (Taswu) said that the strike could only be averted by the tabling of an offer that ensures that workers were able to withstand the economic challenges brought on by the increase in the personal tax rate and VAT. In Gauteng on Wednesday morning, supermarket workers to security guards, and even magistrates who are Rea Vaya customers, had to find alternative means to get to their destinations. Meanwhile, the taxi industry took full advantage of the situation, and even went to the extent of bending their association's rules in an effort to make full benefit of the financial opportunity. A taxi driver who asked to remain anonymous said the strike was an opportunity to earn some extra cash. He said the best way to do so was to wake up early and make frequent early trips. I am sure bus drivers also take advantage when we are on strike in the taxi industry,” he said. Other Johannesburg commuters chose to phone their bosses to explain and thereafter returned to their homes, while others were reminded the of the existence of a written warning. Commuters endured long waits for taxis at their various pick-up points in Soweto on Wednesday morning, but most taxis were full. Those taxis that normally pick these commuters up each morning were scrambling over to the Rea Vaya, Metro and Putco bus services customers. DM  

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