Cape Town - The five unions involved in the national bus drivers' strike have slammed efforts at resolving the almost two-week long impasse, saying despite interventions at the highest levels the parties remain "far apart" and that the strike action will continue into the long weekend.
In a statement issued in the early hours of Friday morning, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), Transport and Services Workers Union (Tirisano), Transport and Omnibus Workers Union (Towu), and Transport and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Tawusa), accused employers of remaining inflexible.
The five unions attended a Thursday meeting in Johannesburg called for by minister of transport Dr. Blade Nzimande and labour minister Mildred Oliphant in an attempt to resolve the impasse in the bus sector.
"The bus strike is in its eighth day and it is having a severe impact on public transportation for the working class and their families," the statement said.
"Thousands of workers are stranded and unable to get to work, whilst others have to spend extra money which they did not budget for, in order to get to work. The worst affected by the strike, however, are our members who are losing wages for every day that they withdraw their labour. This has a direct impact on them and their families and their ability to survive.
"The real tragedy is that despite the interventions even at the highest office, as parties we remain very far apart."
The unions said they had already compromised by lowering their demands from 12% across the board to 9.5%, and had initially wanted a one-year agreement, but during mediation had settled for a two-year agreement.
The unions also decried the fact that their members get no medical aid and are denied other benefits.
"In comparison, the employers have not made any attempts to move the negotiations in a positive direction. The offer of 9% was an offer which was proposed by the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) and not the employers.
"Furthermore they arrogantly refuse to give in to the just demand for the alternative driver to be paid his full salary for all the time that he is on the bus.
"They also refuse to adhere to the definition of the night shift allowance to be implemented in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). In other words, workers are robbed of a night shift allowance because the industry has made its own rules about what constitutes a night shift and therefore workers are not fully paid for the work they do."
The statement added that it was "deeply concerning that both the ministers of transport and labour were unable to convince the employers to do the right thing".
The unions further decried the working conditions which forced drivers to work like slaves for long periods with too little rest. "It is a fact that sleep deprivation has a major impact on a drivers’ ability on the road, and yet these sweat shop conditions are precisely what bus drivers are exposed to every day."
"In light of this inflexible position of the employers we call on our members to continue the strike into the long weekend," they added. "They must do so, because striking is the only way to force bosses to give in. We will extend the strike into the long weekend and beyond because the bosses in the sector only care about profits, and not people."
African News Agency/ANA