Multi-pronged solution needed to halt bus strike

Union members picket at the Golden Arrow bus terminus on Monday April 20.

As the bus strike continued to squeeze commuters this week, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh, warned against trying to find a “one size fits all” solution and called for more democracy in labour relations.

Ms Myburgh said the strike had caused problems and disruptions for everyone from schools to factories.

“At this stage, the damage is impossible to quantify. The chamber does not become involved in negotiations between employers and their workers, but we are concerned about above-inflation wage increases. In this case, both the offer by the employers and the workers’ demands are above the Consumer Price Index (CPI). We believe, that what we need to see is an increase in productivity because that is the best way to justify high wage increases,” she said.

Striking workers took over the Golden Arrow bus terminus in the city centre on Monday following the collapse of negotiations.

Elias Mjikwa, chairperson of the passenger sector under the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), said workers were no longer demanding a 12% wage increase and had agreed on a 9.5 % increase for the first year and a 9% increase for the second. However, they had rejected an 8.5% increase for the first year and a 8% increase for the second as proposed by the mediator, which the employers were happy to sign. “All our other demands were also ignored. For example, for long distance drivers, we wanted the employer to pay for their accommodation and meal allowances. Right now, they are only getting a R400 a month allowance.

“The mediator didn’t accommodate us and requested that the other demands be dropped. We will gather at the terminus every day to discuss a way forward and picket at various points.”

South Africa Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) chairperson, Faizel Williams, said there is no way forward because no other meetings or negotiations had been planned following the deadlock on Friday. “We are waiting for government to intervene because the whole process has depleted, and we will stand by our demands.”

He said all MyCiTi and Golden Arrow bus services have come to a halt, however, there are still depots operating within the city. “We will picket at the depots and close them down because they will also benefit from the decision, and we are not getting paid.”

Zanele Sabela, spokeswoman for Satawu, called on all bus drivers who had not yet joined the strike to do so.”We are calling for them to intensify the strike,” she said.

She said the unions also wanted full-pay for back-up drivers. “The second driver, who is not at the wheel at the beginning of the journey is only entitled to a R400 allowance a month. Another concern is night shifts. Labour also wants workers to be compensated for sleeping-out and have demanded employers arrange and pay for decent accommodation so that drivers can rest adequately when they are away from home,” she said.

However, Ms Myburgh said conditions varied greatly from one region to another and national bargaining did not take that into account.

“In addition to this, many employers are more generous than others and provide excellent benefits to staff. I don’t believe this ‘one size fits all’ approach is the best way to go,” she said. A bigger increase might be justified in some areas but not in others. “The cost of housing and transport varies and these differences should be taken into account,” she said.

Ms Myburgh called for more democracy in the workplace. “We have called for strike ballots for many years now and although there is an agreement that this mechanism is used in many countries, nothing seems to happen.

“The bill which will introduce strike ballots seems to be stuck in Parliament. The problem we have is that when one doesn’t have a democratic procedure for decisions on strikes one leaves the door open to undemocratic ways and that can mean intimidation and violence. We need more democracy in labour relations.”

Meanwhile, Brett Herron, the City’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, thanked the minibus-taxi industry for stepping in to get commuters where they needed to be.

“We have seen long queues at minibus-taxi facilities. If it was not for these operators thousands of commuters would have been left stranded. I also welcome the help that is being provided by Metrorail by operating additional trips where they can.”

The national bus strike has left thousands of commuters stranded all over the city. In the CBD, people can be seen standing in lengthy lines on the station deck and at other transport pick up spots. Last week, Metrorail announced significant failures in their operations, resulting in hours of delays.