Buses caused gridlock in KZN

Published Jan 5, 2016


Durban - Tired of empty promises, Durban Transport bus drivers caused a major traffic jam on the N3 going into the city when they parked buses in the road on Monday after not being paid their December salaries and annual bonuses.

Traffic came to a grinding halt on the main route into Durban as about 100 buses blocked off all the lanes.

There was a major traffic jam from near the Pavilion to the N3 Spaghetti Junction as metro police officers diverted traffic on to the N2 so motorists would not be stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

There was another diversion to the M13 as the drivers had steadily moved buses on to the road, not allowing any cars to pass them.

Frustrated motorists also sat in a major bottleneck at the approach to Tollgate, near the exit to Randles Road, causing major delays.

Another blockade was in Dr Pixley kaSeme (West) Street, near the city hall, where initially all the lanes were closed. However, after negotiations between metro police and the drivers, two were opened so that traffic could flow.

The disgruntled drivers and general staff from the uMlazi, Ntuzuma and Rossburgh bus depots said they had downed tools and protested in this fashion as they were tired of being told “lies” since last month.

It was not the first time the drivers had not been paid. In 2014, the bus operation came to a standstill over annual salary bonuses.

Last year the bus company frequently ran out of diesel, causing it to run a skeleton operation with poor communication to commuters.

The Mercury spoke to some of the drivers, who did not want to be identified. They went on strike on December 18.

After negotiations between the drivers, the city and bus operator Tansnat, the drivers suspended the strike on a promise that they would be paid on December 31. They were not paid, but continued working.

On Sunday, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo issued a statement saying the city had averted the strike and would pay the drivers directly and recover the money from Tansnat.

However, on Monday the workers said there had been no payments and in desperation they had resorted to blocking the roads.

“It is painful not to get your bonus in December, but not getting your monthly salary is another thing. We decided that, come what may, we are parking the buses on the road. We have been patient for a long time,” one driver said.

A woman who works at one of the depots said: “We have children and on Christmas we could not have proper celebrations, as did other families. Now they (the children) have to go back to school, and still there is no money. And the problem is not just at the end of the year – even during the year there are glitches. We are tired.”

Municipal spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa said the city had appealed to bus drivers to be patient while the city verified their account details in order for their December salaries and bonuses to be paid.

“Last week, the city entered into an agreement with Tansnat in an effort to avert strike action by bus drivers.

“The city had sought to pay the Tansnat employees, excluding the management, directly, and recover the money from Tansnat.

“Drivers have been asked by the city to complete an employment confirmation form to verify if they are indeed Tansnat employees. The forms, together with the copies of the drivers’ identity documents and bank statements, are to be submitted to the municipality as part of the verification process,” she said.

After verification, salaries and bonuses would be paid directly from the city to the drivers.

However, Tansnat spokesman Vuyo Mkhize blamed the city for the strike. He said it was a result of the eThekwini Municipality’s failure to honour its contractual obligations.

He said the municipality insisted on paying the salaries and bonuses directly into Tansnat employees’ bank accounts, even though Tansnat had advised it not to do so, as that would cause delays.

“This process may take up to a month or more to complete, as opposed to doing so via the Tansnat bank account, a process that would take a mere 24 hours. They did this despite knowing full well that this was going to result in the resumption of what may turn out to be a prolonged strike,” he said.

Mkhize added: “The city has no answer to Tansnat’s charge that their failure to timeously process the R75 million claim the company lodged as far back as July 2015 is the only reason the company is, up to today, unable to meet its bonus and salary obligations to its employees”.

On Monday, the drivers said they had filled in the employment confirmation forms and left their IDs and bank account numbers with eThekwini officials. They were promised they would be paid from today, they said.

“We will not go back to work until we have been paid,” a driver said.

Tansnat and the city are in a legal battle, with each party claiming it is owed millions by the other. The city says it is owed about R40 million.

The company has said its recurring funding problems are due to its having been underpaid between October 2010 and January 2014.

Nxumalo has condemned the blockading of roads and urged drivers to express their concerns through appropriate channels.

“We appeal to bus drivers to be calm while we address the issue,” he said.

The Mercury

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