Commuters pin their hopes on Metrobus and union members finding each other to break the deadlock. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)
Commuters pin their hopes on Metrobus and union members finding each other to break the deadlock. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)

Joburg commuters bear the brunt of Metrobus strike

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published May 16, 2021

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Johannesburg - Thekisho Malimabe stands stranded on a Soweto bus stop in Mangalani, near Chiawelo on Old Potchefstroom road hoping a bus will soon approach.

Malimabe is a bus commuter who travels to work by Metrobus and is one of many commuters left stranded following the current strike after Joburg Metrobus announced that services will come to a complete halt, last Monday, following the ongoing strike action by its drivers.

He now has to take a taxi to work which is costly for him, as he had already filled his Metrobus tag up for the week.

“I bought trips that would last me for a week with my last money, only to find that I have to use cash for taxis this week. I’ve spent about R100 for the week’s trips. And the boring part is that your trips expire. So it means I just gave Metrobus money for free,” said Malimbe.

Malimabe, who’s recently secured a new job at a retail store in Johannesburg, said he bought a bus tag as he thought buses would be reliable transport for him.

“What’s more frustrating is that I bought a bus tag thinking I have found a reliable source of transportation to work, mind you, this is a new job. Not even a week in, and this happens. I should've done my research instead of wasting my money on their bus service,” said Malimabe.

Nhlakanipho Skosana, another bus commuter, is fed up with the strike and said that commuters should be refunded by Metrobus, so they can use it for taxi fare.

“Can we rather have our money back? All we want is our money back so we can use it for taxi fare. We, the commuters, are bearing the brunt,” Skosana said.

Skosana, who lives in Protea South, Soweto, filled up his tag for two weeks.

Echoing his sentiments is Nomonde Dhlamini. She lives in Chiawelo, Soweto, and commutes to work by Metrobus. She’s now had to use taxis to travel to work and also believes passengers should be refunded.

“How about they refund the passengers. Metrobus clearly doesn’t care about giving us our money back, so we can make other arrangements. I’ve had to opt for ReaVaya or taxis. I think we should be refunded our cash,” Dhlamini said.

Paulette Nkayi reckons the financial well-being of the commuters is not considered.

“It seems the union or whoever is behind the strike is concerned about the well-being of their employees, but not about the financial wellbeing of the commuters they serve. It is not fair. We understand they have their concerns as employees, but we are also affected by this,” said Nkayi.

All they are doing is appearing on the news without any final outcomes about the buses coming back. They won't even pay back the money we are using for taxis, to fill our tags next time. We would be glad if we were told beforehand to not fill our bus tags because now we have to use cash whereas our monies are with Metrobus,” she said.

The spokesperson for Metrobus Goodwill Shiburi said Metrobus wants to resolve the issue. “They have got structural issues with the union on strike.”

“The bone of contention between the employees of Joburg Metrobus and the employer is the 18% demand of salary increments, and the reinstatement of those who were fired due to misconduct, and the Covid-19 allowance for workers.

“These are substantive conditions of employment. We are unable to address these issues with The Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Demawusa) because they are not a party to the collective Bargaining Council at local government,” Shiburi said.

Shiburi said: “Metrobus is owned by the City of Johannesburg. Everyone such as Pikitup, Joburg Water, everyone will receive their increment which is agreed upon at the Bargaining Council.

“These issues are not implementable because the shareholder won’t implement this Demawusa resolution. They will wait for the local government Bargaining Council and across the board, all 33 000 employees under the City of Johannesburg would get the exact salary increment.

So, if we were to give R15 000 to every employee for Covid benefit, what then happens to the rest of the City because there are people who have been working throughout. So one entity would have an agreement with Demawusa, but it will bind the shareholder because what will happen is, you will have strikes from all these entities.”

According to Shiburi, while Metrobus won’t be able to refund commuters for their trips, they will be able to credit them for the trips they have lost. The validity of commuters’ trips lasts up to six months.

“The challenge will be for those with tags that have expired last week or this week. So because a tag has history on it, we are able to credit those trips which you’ve lost,” said Shiburi.

Demawusa said the management at Metrobus is refusing to engage them. The workers have been on strike since last week demanding an 18% salary increase. There are also issues of unfair dismissals and salary disparities. The management at Metrobus has refused to negotiate with Demawusa saying the union is not recognised.

Demawusa spokesperson, Dion Makhura, spoke to Sunday Independent, and he said one of the issues they aim to clarify was that the union need not be recognised for its members to go on strike.

Makhura said: “One of the issues we’ve wanted to clarify to the public is that you don’t need to be recognised to go on strike to create a demand. Every employee has a right to place a demand, so the issue of recognition is not an issue. Since last Monday, management has refused to speak to us.”

“Issuing a notice for a strike as a right to an employee who does have the right to go on strike, has been interpreted as holding the City at ransom as they say we are. That is not our understanding,” said Makhura.

Makhura said, because the workers on strike are employees of Joburg Metrobus, Metrobus must engage with Demawusa to resolve the impasse.

“They can’t say we are holding them at ransom. There is nothing we have done in terms of the law, or doing anything unlawful. This is not an illegal strike. It is a strike that has been confirmed. We don’t understand on what basis they say we are holding them at ransom. You may not recognise the trade union, but you recognise the people you have hired because they are your employees and they have a dispute. We are saying, ‘come, let’s talk.”

In the meantime, Joburg Metrobus has applied for an interdict against the strike. The Metrobus service covers over 300 scheduled routes including 128 school routes in Johannesburg, with at least 3 0000 commuters are impacted daily.

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