Metrobus chaos: Labour Court foils bid to end strike
On 19 May the Labour Court struck the transport firm's interdict to end a strike by employees off the roll, paving the way for the strike to continue well into its third week.
Metrobus has been locked in a dispute with the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (Demawusa) for weeks.
The union has listed 28 demands, including a salary increase of 18% and a R15,000 Covid-19 allowance.
The bus company sought the court’s intervention to prevent striking employees from demonstrating. It argued that the union was not recognised because it was not party to the Local Government Bargaining Council (LGBC).
Previous talks aimed at ending the strike failed as the bus company refused to negotiate with Demawusa. The lack of cooperation between the parties has led to the courts being drawn into the matter, with Metrobus previously launching a lockout application against the union, which also did not succeed.
According to Metrobus, on its first day, the strike affected 40% of its operations. The company’s second-largest depot was not operational and not a single bus left the premises, affecting throngs of commuters from the South of Johannesburg. About 200 of the company’s routes across the city were affected and many commuters were left holding their bags
The disruption to services was caused despite the fact that only about 100 Demawusa-affiliated drivers were expected to take part in the strike, compared to the more than 700 drivers belonging to the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu,) who had declined to take part.
According to Metrobus, Demawusa solely represents only five of the company’s employees. However, some employees have dual memberships, which takes Demawusa’s tally to about 100 represented members. Those with dual memberships would belong to Demawusa and Independent Municipal or Allied Trade Union (Imatu) or Samwu.
Metrobus spokesperson Goodwill Shiburi conceded that commuters were hit hard. He said in addressing some commuter problems, such as paid for trips, the system will reload or credit the lost trips when operations resume. He said the trips were redeemable for period of six months.
Shiburi apologised to customers on behalf of the company and said that Metrobus had brought in surplus drivers as part of its intervention strategy. He said buses had been redirected and rescheduled in order to try and meet customers’ expectations.
“It’s bad, you hear them (customers) coming to you and saying ‘so when will operations resume, what will happen?’” said Shiburi.
Metrobus services between 12,000 and 16,000 customers a day. Many of these customers have very limited transport alternatives, especially with the destruction and theft of local rail infrastructure rendering train services non-operational. Customers would need to use alternative forms of transport such as taxis or Rea Vaya bus services.
Poppy Ndlovu, who commutes daily between Soweto and Johannesburg, said: “There is nothing else I can do. For me the most important thing is to protect my job and that means seeking alternative transport that will get me to work on time until the strike is over”.
Ndlovu opted to use taxis but cannot wait for bus services to resume. She said she had just realised how economical using a bus was compared to minibus taxis.
“It is what it is. When the bus drivers go on strike, we have to suffer. What else can you do except find alternative transport? You do not want to throw your whole life away just because the bus did not turn up,” said 55 years old Elliot Mkhize, a retail store employee in the Johannesburg city centre.
Metrobus has lost R4.5-million since the strike began about three weeks ago, with losses totalling almost R300,000 per day. “We had hoped that the strike would last a few days, it has now caused unimaginable damage,” said Shiburi.
In a previous meeting between the employer and Demawusa, union spokesperson Dion Makhura said Metrobus would agree to negotiate if the union suspended the strike, which the union declined.
Makhura said for Demawusa nothing had changed and that the strike would go on. “We are continuing with the strike, that is our position. We will continue with the strike until the employer is prepared to listen to and respect our grievances,” Makhura said.
Shiburi confirmed that the company’s bid to interdict the strike was struck off the roll, but did not respond when asked what the company’s next move would be following the latest decision by the Labour Court. DM