Bus workers’ strike set to cause chaos

Action by unions after pay talks deadlock comes at busy Easter travel period

Tens of thousands of Nelson Mandela Bay commuters will be left stranded from today after bus company employees were set to go on strike from midnight last night as part of a nationwide labour dispute just before the Easter long weekend.

Workers in the metro and people planning to travel long distances will be inconvenienced, while the strike will also affect protesters planning to use buses to get to Pretoria’s Church Square today to attend the march against President Jacob Zuma.

Wage negotiations at the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council have become deadlocked, with labour unions informing bus companies of their intention to embark on national strike action.

Drivers affiliated to various unions – the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), Transport and Allied Workers Union (Tawu), Professional Transport and Allied Workers Union (Ptawu) and Transport and Allied Services Workers Union (Taswu) – are seeking a double-digit pay increase, among other things.

Employer parties involved in the negotiations – the SA Bus Employers’ Association (Sabea) and Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobeo) – said the unions had issued a strike notice despite employers offering a wage increase of 7.5% as well as improvements to overtime provisions and travel and subsistence allowances, which had been rejected.

“Regrettably, the intended strike will affect all bus operators other than municipalities, which translates into commuters who rely solely on these buses for transport to work being unfairly inconvenienced,” the employer groups said.

“The employers remain committed to reaching a reasonable and affordable wage settlement.”

Satawu provincial secretary Lungile Ntshuntshe said: “We realise the Easter weekend is approaching and unfortunately customers will be affected. Employers should take that into consideration.

“Also, it will not only be customers who are affected but also workers and members of our union who were planning to go away.”

Ntshuntshe said the strike would continue until employers agreed to a double-digit increase.

According to Numsa spokesman Phakamile Hlubi, the bus drivers’ demands include being paid overtime on public holidays at 1.5 times the normal wage rate‚ and double on Sundays‚ “as stipulated by the labour law”, as well as a 15% salary increase.

Algoa Bus Company chief executive Sicelo Duze said that as a result of the strike action, all of the company’s services would be suspended until further notice.

He apologised for the inconvenience caused.

Greyhound customer care manager Juan-Pierre du Buisson confirmed that the negotiations were deadlocked.

“We will only know by midnight whether they will embark on strike action,” he said yesterday.

“If our passengers are affected, we will have to give them a full refund.

Other companies involved in the dispute include Buscor, Putco, Golden Arrow and Mgqibelo.

However, Autopax Passenger Services said it would be business as usual. Translux acting chief executive Bongani Kupe said Autopax – which runs Translux – was not part of Sabea or Cobeo.

As it had not received a notice of strike as required by the Labour Relations Act, employees participating in a strike would be doing so illegally.

Yesterday, passengers about to board buses expressed their frustration with the timing of the strike.

NMMU student Thabiso Shirinde, 19, who was waiting to board a Citiliner bus, said she had made plans to visit family and friends in Limpopo. “This makes me angry,” she said. “How will I return on April 18 if the strike continues?

“Many people travel to see their families during the Easter holidays.

“How are they expected to travel back should the strike continue?”

Unathi Mkuku, 21, said he was unaware of the strike.

“I am on my way to visit my parents in Queenstown and hope to return on Wednesday or Thursday next week.

“This decision will have a negative impact on my return to school.” Landa Booysen, 32, from Middelburg, said:

“This is very bad. This time of the year lots of people travel.”

Algoa Taxi Association chairman Phillip Arendse said taxis would be transporting commuters as normal.

Numsa said it had declared a dispute with the Bus Passengers Council after the unsatisfactory response from employers.

“The response from employers is alarming, given that several bus transportation companies are guilty of abusing the basic conditions of employment,” Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said.

“Workers are exposed to long working hours and poor working conditions, which puts both drivers and passengers at risk.

“Our workers and their families cannot exist on the low wages on offer, while executives reward themselves with millions.

“Employers claim the current economic climate means they can’t afford to increase salaries, and yet when the industry was doing well, those savings and profits were never passed on to our workers.”

Editorial Note: In an earlier version of this article, we incorrectly listed Intercape as one of the companies involved in the dispute. “Intercape takes note of the planned Industrial Action by members of Numsa, Satawu, Tawusa, Taswu and Towu. Our staff are not involved in the Industrial Action and as such all Intercape trips will continue as planned,” the company have said in a statement. 

We regret the error and the article has been amended.

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