TICKET TO NOWHERE: Many Easter holiday commuters were left stranded at Park Station in Joburg by the bus strike. Picture: Itumeleng English
Johannesburg - Unions representing bus drivers are at each other’s throats despite agreeing to a wage deal which has effectively ended the three-day strike action.

Metalworkers union Numsa has blamed the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), Transport & Omnibus Workers Union (Towu) and Transport and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Tawusa) for signing the nine percent wage deal without ensuring that working conditions were improved.

The strike – by TransLux, City to City, Greyhound, Golden Arrow and MyCITI bus drivers – started on Wednesday and ruined Easter plans by passengers.

Some of them had already bought tickets in advance to travel to various destinations in the country and neighbouring countries.

On Wednesday afternoon some passengers formed long queues at Computicket outlets for refunds. Buses were parked at depots used by the bus operators.

Most passengers flocked to trains and taxis, and some commuters complained that some taxi operators charged higher fares than usual.

On Saturday, some bus companies had resumed operations but on a skeletal basis after three unions representing workers in the sector reached a wage settlement with the employers on Friday.

A few City to City, TransLux, Golden Arrow and MyCiti buses were operating on some routes on Saturday, with few passengers on board.

Golden Arrow spokesperson Bronwen Dyke-Dreyer said although most drivers reported for work on Sunday, they expected services to be back to normal on Tuesday as the news of the settlement was still filtering through.

The signing of the wage deal has exposed divisions among the unions. However, Numsa grudgingly signed the settlement on Saturday.

The union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, described the deal as a sell-out.

“Despite being the second-biggest trade union in the sector, we had to accept this sell-out deal for the sake of industrial peace and stability in the sector, and we therefore urge all our members to return to work,” he said on Saturday.

Jim said workers had been hard done by by the three unions which had concluded the deal but had failed to address equally critical issues such as the poor working conditions of bus drivers.

“We create splinters instead of creating unity in this sector because we don’t speak one language as unions.”

The workers were demanding a 15 percent hike but settled for the employers’ initial nine percent offer.

Stephen Motingoa, general secretary of Tirisano Transport and Services Workers Union (Taswu), which is not part of the bargaining council as it does not meet the required membership threshold, also questioned the rationale behind other unions’ acceptance of the offer.

“But this nine percent was previously offered before we embarked on the strike. And why did these unions not agree to the offer before we even embarked on the strike?

“These unions allowed the exploitation of the workers to continue,” he said.

Satawu general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu was part of the delegation of union leaders that signed the Friday agreement.

“We had to accept the offer because it was already on the table, and our members were ready to take it.

“So we made sure to take it to our members. We didn’t convince them to take it but we told them this is where we are right now.”

Numsa has pledged to address the issue of the non-compliance of basic working conditions by employers with Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant during a yet-to-be scheduled meeting with her.

“We want workers to be paid double on the weekends and for extra hours.” Jim said.

“There are two drivers on the bus and second is not paid. We want the second driver to be paid.

“The agreements are undermining the workers.

“This is exploitation. The second driver is only paid if he or she drives,” Jim said.

He added that Numsa would continue to pressure the department to do proper oversight in the bus passenger sector.

“The fact that our members, even under the new wage agreement, will continue to be exposed to dangerously long hours without compensation is shameful.”

Labour Ministry spokesperson Sithembele Tshwete said unions had failed in their mandate of informing the department about the problems faced by workers.

He said the minister was surprised to hear of the blatant neglect of regulations by employers, which had not even been raised with her or the director-general.

“Unions have a role to play in terms of (informing us).

“Workers also have a role to play to inform us, even if we have enough inspectors.

“It is still the role of the unions to say to the department there is something that is happening in that sector that you should prioritise.”

Sunday Independent