The national bus strike is in its fourth week, reaching far and wide. Commuters spend hours standing in taxi and train queues, and productivity is affected in the workplace. The labour dispute is also impacting heavily on the drivers involved due to the ‘no work, no pay’ rule.
“We didn’t think the strike would go into month end. We’re behind on our furniture instalments. My wife only earns R3,500 and she has to support all seven of us now during the strike because it’s no work, no pay,” Putco bus driver Kadishi Gideon Maleka told Daily Maverick.
He joined the bus strike for better pay when it began on 18 April.
Maleka, 53, has been a commuter bus driver for 14 years. In the first 10 years of his career, he had to wake up at 02:00 every day to cover the first shift at 03:15, transporting commuters from his home area in KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga to Pretoria.
Maleka is the breadwinner of his family, a father to seven children. While two of his children are employed, the others are still dependent on him, three of them still in school.
Maleka’s family recently went through a tough time due to his wife being unemployed for months. Maleka had to take financial responsibility for everything.
“It was tough. I had to take care of school stuff for the children, transport, uniforms; also two of them are unemployed and stay at home so I take care of them too.”
“I am not earning enough, that’s why this strike is so important to us. Luckily, my wife got a job on the 1st of April, just in time before the strike, but she’s still not making enough to cover us,” he said.
Maleka’s wife found temporary employment through a three-month contract. But instead of boosting their family income, their finances took a blow due to the strike.
He says the family felt a huge sense of panic when month-end came along, the strike was still in full effect and they could not afford to pay their monthly furniture instalments.
Maleka’s wife earns R3,500, approximately half of what Maleka earns. He says he is hopeful that the bus drivers’ demands will soon be met by bus employers so that he can return to work, but things do not seem positive, with the strike not having full support of all bus employees.
Some bus companies are still in operation even though unions approached them to stand in solidarity with them, even if they are not unionised, in the hope that the strike would be more effective.
“It hurts to see them driving those buses. We feel very bad, but you know, I am a Christian, we are Christians so we don’t believe in attacking them and violence. They think they’re better than us because they are in their white shirts and their beautiful ties but we know that they actually are not better than us, they are worse,” Maleka said.
Some of the demands requested by the five unions involved in the strike are for the long distance drivers to be paid when working shifts, even if they are not driving. Currently, drivers are only paid for their time behind the wheel. Maleka feels hurt that long-distance drivers aren’t taking part in the strike because, he says, the demands requested, if met, will benefit all drivers.
Bus companies still in operation include Intercape, Eldo Coaches and Intercity Express.
The national bus strike began on 18 April with employees of approximately 67 bus companies around South Africa protesting against poor working conditions and for better pay. Satawu(South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union)along with four other unions requested a minimum wage of R8,000 per month and an increment of 9.5% in the first year, and 8.5% in the second year.
Negotiations have ended in deadlock and a new proposal is now on the table. Many bus companies have not been operating for 20 days, leaving commuters stranded. For instance, the MyCiTi service in Cape Town usually serves 70,000 commuters a day.
While many bus drivers share the same challenges as Maleka, commuters are also affected by the strike.
The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry was not able to provide statistics on exactly how the bus strike has affected the economy, but Janine Myburgh, President of the Cape Chamber, said that “it is clear that the poor are the hardest hit”.
Taxi fares are usually more expensive for long commuter journeys, but workers are forced to pay these fares to get to work.
According to Myburgh, in Cape Town, commuter train trips were reduced due to the lack of train sets after arson and copper theft, and this has severely hampered the train service. Trains are late and there are fewer carriages, resulting in people resorting to the more expensive taxis or standing in the lengthy train queues, making them late for work.
Myburgh said factories have changed working hours, shifting starting and finishing times out of peak commuting hours.
“One of our members, for instance, is now working from 6am to 2pm.”
The biggest problem, however, is that if too many staff members are late, it will not be possible to start up production lines and everybody struggles.
“It is clear that if the strike continues for much longer businesses will suffer and jobs will be killed,” Myburgh said. DM
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