“If train or bus workers go on strike, drivers and security personnel should not be part of it. But the support staff can. Unions need to view this laterally because in the end it’s their members who suffer during the strikes,” he said. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA
Cape Town - Declaring public transport an essential service would not prevent or undermine the right to strike, according to labour law expert Michael Bagraim.

His comments followed submissions by the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) before the essential services committee (ESC), in opposing the bid to make public transport an essential service.

“We are still suffering from apartheid’s spatial planning. The majority of people live far from their workplaces, clinics and all essential services. They have no access to these places, unless they own cars or use public transport. “I understand the reasoning behind wanting to make public transport an essential service,” he said.

Bagraim added that when public transport strikes take place, the poor are the most affected as well as the economy.

“If train or bus workers go on strike, drivers and security personnel should not be part of it. But the support staff can. Unions need to view this laterally, because in the end it’s their members who suffer during the strikes,” he said.

Bargraim used an example of a bus strike in Japan, where striking bus drivers still reported for duty, drove buses but did not charge fares to commuters.

“They came with an innovative way to strike that forced the company to settle,” Bagraim said.

The Department of Labour announced last month that it, together with the ESC in terms of the Labour Relations Act 1995, would be investigating whether public transport was an essential service.

The Cape Argus requested comment from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but the CCMA was unable to comment at the time of publication.

Satawu in written submissions said that according to the Labour Act an essential service was defined as an interruption in service that endangers the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population.

Satawu argued that during its 27 days' national strike there were no incidents reported; loss of life; endangering of personal safety; or impacting anyone's health.

“The only effect was on the economy, and that capitalism was the greatest loser.

“The public transport services are diverse and have different modes, which the public can use as an alternative. The employer also has the right to use services of replacement labour during a strike,” the union conceded.

Satawu said it found the essential service investigation inappropriate due to the alternative transport services available for employers and the public. “Workers in public transport services are treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Their rights are being trampled on,” it added.

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