Numsa threatens to launch massive bus strike ahead of Easter weekend

A file picture of commuters waiting for buses at Bosman Street bus station in Pretoria ahead of the Easter holidays last year. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

A file picture of commuters waiting for buses at Bosman Street bus station in Pretoria ahead of the Easter holidays last year. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 5, 2023


Pretoria - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has threatened to launch a massive bus strike ahead of the Easter weekend – a decision likely to leave millions of bus commuters stranded.

This would not be the first such strike action – in April 2017, millions of commuters around the country were left stranded after striking bus workers ditched their buses and joined Numsa’s call for a total bus boycott.

Some of these commuters were due to travel to neighbouring countries and had already booked and paid for their tickets, but had to use alternative means of transport – an extra burden for them – to travel home.

Those who didn’t have enough cash had to remain in South Africa. Some locals had to hop into different taxis – also an extra cost – to travel home.

Yesterday, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim warned that similar action would happen this week if the employers, represented by the South African Bus Employers’ Association and the Commuter Bus Employers’ Organisation, do not return to the negotiating table.

“We have been trying to negotiate with employers since January, through the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council, and we declared a dispute in February, but employers are stubbornly refusing to give workers a meaningful increase.

“The issue which has triggered the strike is that the employer refuses to negotiate health insurance benefits. Workers in the sector do not have any kind of medical aid or medical insurance at all,” he said.

Jim said they’d already obtained a strike certificate, and if the employers did not come back to the negotiating table, they would have no choice but to resort to a full-blown strike.

Jim said the only official proposal on the table was the mediator’s proposal: a two-year agreement from April 1, 2023 to March 31, 2025, and a 7% increase for year one and year two on the minimum wage. In terms of the proposal, all employees will receive a 7% increase on all allowances for two years.

Regarding the demand for health insurance, or (primary health care as it is referred to in the proposed agreement), the employers want that issue to be dealt with at company or plant level, and not to negotiate it at the National Bargaining Forum.

“We wish to state upfront that the mediator’s proposal does not reflect the position of the majority of unions. Numsa is the majority union in the bus passenger sector, and we did not endorse the proposal. However, despite our misgivings about how this was done, we welcome the opportunity to engage the proposal and hope that we can make adjustments to some of the proposal so that it comes closer to meeting some of our demands.

“Both employers made an offer directly to employees of a 6% increase for three years. This proposal is conditional upon workers dropping the demand for medical insurance.

“Employers did not table it at the National Bargaining Forum, which is the formally recognised structure for negotiations,” Jim said.

He said their reasons for failing to table an offer at the National Bargaining Forum was due to the fact that they did not respect centralised bargaining. He said they had undermined it at every turn.

“Medical insurance is a life and death matter for our members, the majority of whom cannot afford medical aid on their salaries. The lowest-paid workers are earning on average about R7 800 a month, so medical aid was unaffordable.

“It is a well-known fact that public hospitals and clinics are collapsing, and this is why we are demanding medical aid. Hospitals and clinics are drastically short-staffed and under-resourced, therefore workers want to be able to access private health care,” Jim said.

He said if the medical aid issue was deferred to the plants, it meant the likelihood of the majority of workers achieving this benefit was very low.

According to Jim, most companies would refuse to grant the benefit and that was why they wanted the matter resolved at a national level.

“While we understand that many commuters will be inconvenienced by the strike, we urge them to direct their frustrations to the organisation, which has shown that it does not care at all about how this will inconvenience the public. We urge communities to make alternative plans for the long weekend, because the strike is likely to disrupt services.

“We have proposed an urgent meeting with employers, preferably within the next 48 hours. The ball is in their court if they wish to avert a disaster,” Jim warned.

Terry Muragan, president of the South African Bus Operators’ Association, said they did not have any comment, as the negotiations were continuing.

Pretoria News