COMMUNITY members from Howick, Mpophomeni. Mpande and Mafakitini who previously used Taros buses to travel to work everyday have been forced to make alternative, more expensive arrangements to get to work since the buses stopped operating on August 23.According to Taros bus drivers, the halt in service came after the drivers were allegedly instructed by their employer to stop their duties following an argument regarding one of the managers within the company. However, the company dismissed these allegations, saying that the bus drivers embarked on an unprotected strike and that is why they had to halt operations. Speaking on the issue, Ashraf Hassim, a manager from Impendhle Services, who manage the Howick depot, dismissed the allegations that the service stoppage was a result of a disagreement and said the buses stopped operation after the drivers embarked on an unprotected strike at the end of August.In a statement released on Monday, Hassim said: “Drivers of Taros buses (Howick) embarked on industrial action and refused to work. On August 22 the non-striking employees were held hostage at the Howick Depot. The entrance gate was padlocked by employees on an unprotected strike and no one was allowed to enter or exit the premises.”Hassim said they had to call police and their security company to assist. “Satawu, the union representing the employees, was informed of the unlawful conduct of its members,” he said. Hassim said that due to the violent conduct of the operating staff, management decided not to continue with daily operations until the matter was investigated. He said that after the investigation was concluded, it was alleged that the drivers had embarked on an unprotected strike. He said each employee was then given an opportunity to present their case at a disciplinary inquiry. “After being duly informed of these disciplinary inquiries, none of the drivers exercised their right to attend the inquiries. Satawu has subsequently referred the matter to the Bargaining Council for adjudication,” he said.Hassim said that services commenced on September 17 however they were immediately halted due to intimidation by the ex-employees. He said the company has approached ward councillors and the Mayor of Howick to amicably resolve the issue.“During the past week, the company has met with various stakeholders in the community, assuring them the services will resume as soon as possible,” he said. Satawu Provincial chairperson Chief Dlamini confirmed that the matter has been referred to the Bargaining Council. He said this is because the company failed to follow proper procedure when they were calling in the employees for disciplinary hearings.“The company was supposed to serve our members with notices, letting them know that they must attend the disciplinary hearings, but that did not happen. Instead the company sent our members SMS’s informing them of the disciplinary hearings, that is why they did not attend because that is not how we work,”he said. The drivers insist that they never went on an unprotected strike and they are willing to go back to work anytime if the employer gives them permission to do so. The drivers told Echo that each day they still wake up and wait at the gate in the hopes that the employer will open the gates for them and allow them to work.Community members who were previously using the bus service told Echo that when the problem started they hoped that it would be resolved soon. Mzokuhle Zuma, who lives in Mpophomeni but works in Howick, said it has not been easy and that he often arrives at work late because of the lack of transport available.“I have to wake up very early in the morning to catch a taxi but, because there are a lot of people who are now using taxis, I end up being late anyway. There are few taxis and a lot of people.“When the bus problem started I almost got into trouble at work due to my late arrival in the morning, but I explained to them that there was a problem and eventually they understood,” he said. Zuma said, beside being late for work, they are also taking a big knock to their pockets as the taxis are more expensive compared to the bus. He said he used to spend only R63 on a bus ticket per week but now he spends up to R100 in taxis when travelling to Howick everyday.“What is even worse is that when this problem started I had recently bought my bus ticket and now it has expired because it been over two weeks since I bought it. It is tough. We hope that this will be over soon and that everything goes back to normal,” he said.A community member from Mafakatini, Zinhle Mngoma, said: “It is very difficult when the buses are not operating. Some days I have had to stay at home because I did not have taxi fare to go to work. Taxis are very expensive and I did not have a budget for them because I I normally use buses. I cannot afford another month of travel using a taxi. I do not have that money,” she said.