The SA Transport Workers Union says the strike action by the bus sector is not only about wages, but better working conditions and transformation. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Johannesburg - Business bodies and economists have warned that today’s strike by South Africa’s bus drivers could have far-reaching implications for the country.

The groups said the country’s economy was too fragile to withstand prolonged industrial action.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said a standstill in production would have a direct effect on the economy. Chief executive Alan Mukoki said a strike would drown the country’s already depressed economy and business confidence index.

Mukoki said this would affect investment prospects that have already been crippled by last week’s downgrading of the country’s credit rating to junk by two rating agencies. “We as businesses are never happy at all when there are strikes,” said Mukoki.

Public Utility Transport Corporation (Putco) has made a statement to inform its passengers that the intended strike is beyond the control of Putco as a company and that there would be disruption of the bus service from the date mentioned until the strike is called off by unions.

The strike, which would see thousands of bus drivers downing tools, comes in the wake of collapsed negotiations between unions and employers.

Yesterday, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the SA Transport Workers Union (Satawu) said they expected thousands of their members to embark on a strike.

Numsa said talks broke down after bus companies failed to return to the negotiation table to consider the demands of the drivers to avoid the national strike.

Spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi said seven thousand Numsa members in the transportation sector were expected to join the strike.

Read also: Bus dispute not only about wages

Hlubi said the strike, which would involve 16 trade unions in the sector, would result in a complete shutdown of all bus services.

“The employer is not taking us seriously. We’ve been engaging with them since early February on our demands, they have not engaged with us in good faith,” Hlubi said.

Economist Azar Jammine said the country could not afford a prolonged strike on the back of recent downgrades by two rating agencies. He said that the shutdown would be felt even more in the economy in the wake of declining business confidence in South Africa.

“The ripple effects would be huge and could result in more people losing their jobs in the coming year,” Jammine said.

Satawu said the strike action was not only about wages but better working conditions and transformation.

The union said payment of a second driver for long-distance travel and what specifies a night shift was also in dispute.

“Money is not the only issue at stake. Labour was clear from the beginning that these talks were aimed at transforming the industry for the better. But employers have stubbornly refused to relent on demands that are already stipulated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), citing the current main collective agreement as justification,” the union said.

“For instance, the agreement classifies night work as any work done between 8pm and 3am while the BCEA specifies work done between 6pm and 6am. Spread over - where a driver reports for work for a three-hour morning shift, breaks for eight hours and then works a further five hours, is another factor that parties have failed to agree on.”

The unions said commuters across the country would have to find alternative ways of transportation. 

Additional reporting by ANA.