South Africa

Newsflash

Metrobus Strike: Government and unions under fire as bus commuters left in the lurch again

Metrobus Strike: Government and unions under fire as bus commuters left in the lurch again
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 18: A Metrobus at Gandhi Square on August 18, 2004, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Dudu Zitha)

Frustrated commuters left stranded by a decision by Metrobus staff to strike say they will explore the feasibility of establishing an independent commuters' representative body.

Hundreds of commuters around Johannesburg were unable to get to work on Monday morning when about 300 Metrobus workers went on strike.

The workers, members of the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa ( DEMAWUSA) are demanding a salary raise based on an employee’s service. They also wanted access to resources and an office, which they say the two other unions represented in Metrobus enjoy.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Monday morning, commuters said due to poor communication they could not make alternative transport arrangements, and as a result they could not go to work. Those who were destined for work said they would use trains or taxis, but that this would come at an additional cost. Most bus commuters plan their trips in advance and buy monthly tickets.

Lydia Sibiya who commutes between Johannesburg and Sandton, said she had failed to make alternative transport arrangements because of poor communication between commuters and Metrobus. Said Sibiya: “I have no other way but to phone my boss and let him know that I cannot make it to work. I don’t have taxi fare. If I have to take a taxi now, I must have R32 for a return trip. A return trip by train will cost me about half this amount, but I still cannot afford it.”

We commuters are the ones who generate revenue in the bus transport industry, not unions, but we let unions have complete control. I pay around R900 monthly bus fare but I cannot go to work or I have to seek alternative transport when unions decide to strike. We as commuters should come around and formulate our own systems that will not leave us stranded when bus transport unions organise and strike. We need a commuters’ union or the equivalent,” said Ernest Baloyi from Chiawelo in Soweto.

Mohau Theledi agreed.

We should all move in the same direction as commuters. Commuting to work forms an integral part of our lives, some of us are nothing without our jobs but we have left this in the hands of irresponsible and corrupt unions for far too long. I also think it’s time for commuters to assume a more active role in how we are transported. It’s got to a point where we have to choose between these transport unions and our livelihoods and it’s not fair because we pay upfront,” Theledi, also from Soweto, said.

While the commuters who spoke to Daily Maverick said they were not sure how such a body might be constituted, they were adamant about pushing ahead with it, arguing that they believed it would avert strikes, monitor commuters’ safety and also monitor the conduct of other transport operations which might affect bus commuters in any way.

Of the about 300 striking employees, the union stated that about 200 were metro bus operators.

When they strike, we suffer, but when the strike is over, we are expected to get on like nothing happened. The unions are holding the entire transport sector to ransom and it seems the government clearly won’t intervene,” Mbuso Twala, a student in Johannesburg, said.

None of the union guys feel our pain because they own cars. Why should they bother when they have fat salaries at the end of every month and don’t struggle to get to work? They are not bothered, which is why we need an independent commuters’ body to fight the union and government corruption,” said commuter Edwin Mthethwa of Johannesburg.

Striking workers gathered at Gandhi Square in the Joburg CBD on Monday but would not say what their plan of action would be.

By noon on Monday DEMAWUSA was still trying to engage Metrobus management. Their representative Dion Makhura said the union could not say when the strike would be over as this would depend on whether or not an agreement was reached.

Said Makhura: “The strike will continue until we have reached an agreement with Metrobus. But if they continue to ignore us, we will go and see Mayor Herman Mashaba and the city manager.”

Metrobus had not commented by the time of publishing. Their comment will be added when it is received. DM

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