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‘Pay up or else’: Numsa threatens nationwide bus strike ahead of busy Easter weekend

‘Pay up or else’: Numsa threatens nationwide bus strike ahead of busy Easter weekend
(Photo: EPA / Nic Bothma)

Trade union Numsa has for the second year in a row warned of a national bus strike over stalled wage negotiations on the eve of the Easter weekend.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has threatened a strike in the bus sector ahead of the Easter weekend if employers do not put what they describe as a “meaningful” wage offer on the table.

The union said it was negotiating with employers who are represented by the South African Bus Employers Association (Sabea) and the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobea).

Wage negotiations have been going on since January, through the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council, and Numsa declared a dispute in February. The union said employers are “stubbornly refusing to give workers a meaningful increase”.

“The issue which has triggered the [threatened] strike is that the employer refuses to negotiate health insurance benefits. Workers in the sector do not have any kind of medical aid or medical insurance at all,” said Numsa general secretary, Irvin Jim.

Jim said they had obtained a certificate to strike and that if employers did not return to the negotiating table, they would have no choice but to resort to a full-blown strike – which could affect the upcoming Easter weekend.

The only official proposal on the table is that of the mediator, broken down as follows:

  •  Two-year agreement from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2025.
  •  7% increase for year one and year two on the minimum wage.
  •  All employees receive a 7% increase on all allowances for two years.
  • On the demand for health insurance (or primary healthcare, as it is referred to in the proposed agreement), the employers want that issue to be dealt with at the company or plant level, and not at the National Bargaining Forum.

“We wish to state upfront that the mediator’s proposal does not reflect the position of the majority of unions,” explained Jim.

“Numsa is the majority union in the bus passenger sector, and we did not endorse the proposal. However, despite our misgivings about how this was done, we welcome the opportunity to engage the proposal and hope that we can make adjustments to some of the proposals so that it comes closer to meeting some of our demands.”

Millions of people travel around the country over Easter and Numsa knows that bus companies cannot afford not to have their vehicles on the roads at this time. Last year, Numsa also threatened a strike around Easter, but called it off after the employers returned to the negotiating table.

Employers’ offer

Both employers’ organisations made an offer directly to employees of a 6% increase for three years. Numsa said this proposal was conditional upon workers dropping the demand for medical insurance.

“Medical insurance is a life or death matter for our members, the majority of whom cannot afford medical aid on their salaries,” said Jim.

“The lowest-paid worker is earning on average about R7,800 per month… medical aid is unaffordable. It is a well-known fact that public hospitals and clinics are collapsing – this is why we are demanding medical aid.”

Jim said they understood that many commuters would be inconvenienced by the strike should it go ahead, and urged them to direct their frustrations at Cobea and Sabea “who have shown that they do not care at all about how this will inconvenience the public”.

Employers were given until Wednesday to reconsider their offer or prepare for a nationwide strike. DM


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