Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Tshwane - Labour unions involved in a bus strike, which has left thousands of commuters stranded across South Africa, were meeting on Monday to map the way forward as the protest neared its third week.

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) spokesperson Zanele Sabela told the African News Agency in Pretoria that employers in the sector had effectively given striking workers an ultimatum, which unions were unhappy about.

"The unions are meeting this morning to chat our way forward. It is not helpful at this stage to be giving us that ultimatum. We will give you our position after the meeting," said Sabela. "In the meantime, the strike continues."

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She said the unions meeting on Monday included Satawu‚ the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa)‚ the Transport and Omnibus Workers Union (Towu)‚ the Transport and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Tawusa) and the Tirisano Transport and Services Workers Union.

On Monday long queues snaked around taxi ranks in Pretoria, as the strike left many workers with no other option to commute to work. Taxi fares are considerably higher than those for buses.

Sabela said the striking bus drivers understood the plight of stranded commuters.

"It is of course a concern to us. Most of these people who are now struggling to get to work are also our members, but you must remember that the bus drivers and everyone who works in the bus sector also comes from those same communities. They have the same struggle and they do know how hard it is to make ends meet," she said.

Bus companies had initially offered a 7 percent wage increase, which the union rejected, labeling it an insult.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, which mediated talks on Thursday and Friday, proposed an 8 percent increase in the first year and 8.5 percent in the second year of a two-year agreement.

Bus companies accepted the facilitator’s offer on condition that the unions drop other demands, such as payment for night shift and insourcing of workers workshop and technical staff. Unions dropped their wage demand to a 9.5 percent increase in the first year and 9 percent in the second year, following their initial demand of a 12 percent increase.

Sabela said the employers have given the unions until Wednesday to accept a new offer they tabled on Friday.

African News Agency/ANA