As bus commuters entered the 16th day of using alternative transport on Thursday, bus employers, Satawu and four other unions were in a locked meeting in an attempt to break the deadlock.
“Ngxesi bandla.” This is what Zanele Sabela, spokesperson for Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) had to say to South African commuters. This is an Nguni idiom, often used to calm down someone in distress and which has no direct English translation.
Her comments came as bus commuters were forced to take alternative transport for the 16th day as unions and employers were locked in a meeting to try and find a way forward.
Sabela pleaded with commuters to be patient and understanding as protest action needed to happen in order for the demands of the bus drivers to be met.
Responding on Thursday morning to the question of a possible shift in negotiations, Golden Arrow Bus Services spokesperson John Dammert, who was in the locked meeting between employers, Satawu and four other unions said “there is no change as yet”.
Negotiations had deadlocked on Monday, with employers refusing to meet the demands of a 9.5% increment in the first year and an 8.5% increment in the second year demanded by unions at a meeting on Monday with the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council.
Bus companies are represented at the council by South African Bus Employers’ Association (Sabea), and the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobeo) while employees are represented by several unions including Satawu and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa).
Speaking before Thursday’s meeting, Sabela accused employers of negotiating in bad faith.
“They said we must take the offer on the table or they would pull it and return to a lower prior one.” This was obviously not received well by the unions, resulting in the continuation of the strike.
“We come from the same communities, we share the same struggles but these bus drivers have to work 14 to 17 hours a day. The minimum wage they are offering is not enough, they have families and there are no benefits, no medical aid, no provident fund and, to top it off, the conditions they work in are bad,” Sabela said.
The minimum wage employers are willing to settle on is R6,070 while bus drivers insist that it should be R8,000.
Sabela added that drivers on standby are not paid despite being on the bus, and are only paid for their time behind the wheel.
Despite Satawu reaching out to all bus operators to join the strike in the hope of finding strength in numbers, the Intercape customer careline cheerfully welcomes customers, saying: “Welcome to Intercape. Please note that all of our services are running.”
Other bus companies still in operation are Eldo Coaches, Intercity Express and DMJ.
While the strike persists, commuters have had to resort to alternative modes such as taxis and trains which are struggling to cope with the increasing demand.
Attempts to resolve the labour dispute thus far have failed, including interventions from Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Transport Minister Blade Nzimande. DM
Updated at 6.30pm, 2 May 2018: Talks on Thursday afternoon collapsed and the strike thus set to continue according to Gary Wilson, the secretary general of the bargaining council, SARPBAC. “Unfortunately I don’t have good news. The negotiations have collapsed.”
According to Wilson, bus employers pulled the previous offer of a 9% increment and have announced their final position of 8% in the first year and 8,5% in the second year, which was initially the mediator’s proposal. Unions are still demanding 9,5% in the first year and 8,5% in the second year.
“It’s been extremely difficult to deal with some parties, they are just refusing to compromise even though we’ve appealed to them, on both sides, to not be stuck on what they want, they need to protect the interests of the commuters and the economy most importantly.” Wilson said. He also added that the bargaining council is awaiting the employees’ final position and will have to decide what the next step is on Friday.
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