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#BusStrike: Reimburse stranded commuters, says Cosatu

South Africa
Johannesburg – Bus companies should reimburse commuters stranded without transport as a result of the ongoing bus strike, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Thursday.

“These passengers will now be left stranded because of the nationwide strike in the passenger bus sector. Many people who use public transport bought tickets for this week and for the Easter holidays, and were not told that there was a possibility that there would not be transport services because of the strike,” the trade union federation said in a statement.

“The bus companies should not have accepted payment for tickets because they had no reasonable intention of supplying services, and this was foreseeable as they were engaged in tense wage negotiations.”

The strike, which has entered its second day, has left commuters, especially long distance travellers stranded across the country on the eve of the Easter holidays.

On Wednesday, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), one of the five unions in the sector, announced it has reject a nine percent wage increase offer by employers.

Employers offered 7.5 percent, while workers demanded between 12 and 15 percent increases, depending on their union.

The Department of Transport should intervene, said Cosatu.

“We are also restating our call on the Department of Transport to intervene and work to help resolve this strike on behalf of thousands of workers and travellers, who will be affected by the strike over the Good Friday long weekend. This strike will put a strain on the transport system during this busy weekend and if not resolved, we are likely to see an increase in road fatalities.”

Transport and Services Workers Union (Taswu) said on Thursday that unions in the bus passenger sector sympathise with the commuters for the inconvenience caused, but urged them to understand the challenges confronted by workers in the industry.

The bus drivers are affiliated to several unions, including Taswu, National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), and the Transport and Allied Workers Union (Tawu).

The wage negotiations in the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council (SARPBAC) began on February 9.

When negotiations began, the unions jointly made demands including a 30 percent increase across the board, a subsistence allowance, the in-sourcing of all outsourced workers, medical aid and a R350 increase in the travel allowance.

But the negotiations became protracted, and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was roped in to chair the negotiations.

The trade unions then collectively agreed to revise their proposal to demand a 12 percent increase across the board, maternity leave, subsistence and travel allowance of R150, in-sourcing and medical aid processes to be facilitated by CCMA.

Still, a settlement could not be reached as the unions accused the employer of remaining intransigent at 7.5 percent and unwilling to compromise. The employer also offered to pay overtime for drivers only after they have worked a 16-hour shift.

As the result the unions jointly agreed to engage in industrial action starting on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade the employer to accept the revised and “reasonable” demands of workers.

Taswu said it was committed to finding solutions to the disputes in an amicable manner, but if that was impossible then it was committed to fighting in defence and to advance the interests of its members.

“Taswu is further committed to the unity of the workers in general and the unity of the employees in the industry,” the union said in a statement.

“We urge all the unions involved not to use this joint action to gain mileage over other unions during the time of this dispute, and to avoid grandstanding as that will undermine the unity of the workers and the labour component in Council and in the negotiations.”

As things stand, the CCMA has suggested to the parties that they reach a compromised nine percent increase across the board including minimum wage, overtime paid at 1.5 times the normal hourly rate, and 10 percent increase in allowances.

But collectively, the unions revised their position to demand an across the board increase including minimums of 10 percent, an overtime rate agreed by parties, and allowances increased by nine percent to induce employers to accept the demand on dual drivers, as long distance drivers work for over 20 hours but only get paid for seven hours.

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Taxi ranks were packed as bus drivers embarked on the second day of their strike. Picture: Bheki Radebe

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