Bus strike takes hefty chunk from economy

Commuters queue at Dunoon taxi rank in Cape Town during nationwide bus strike. (Photo: Athi Mtongana)
Commuters queue at Dunoon taxi rank in Cape Town during nationwide bus strike. (Photo: Athi Mtongana)

More than three weeks after thousands of bus drivers downed tools, the economy continues to bleed millions of rands as a result.

Transport economist from North West University Ofentse Mokwena said the country could be losing at least R589 million a week because of the ongoing strike, adding that billions of rands have been lost because of the industrial action.

“A general estimate for the weekly costs of bus use from households earning R150 000 a year or less is to the tune of R589 million a week, [and that is] looking only at people between the ages of 15 and 65, and 18% of them use bus services.

“This probably varies across regions and may be much higher or lower depending on the household size and access to public transport in addition to their income,” he said.

The estimates do not include the cost of delays, waiting, inconvenience, transfers and other unintended consequences of the strike that have been carried by the commuters.

In urban areas, he said, the costs could be higher but in rural areas there would be more inconvenience.

The strike has resulted in thousands of commuters and businesses being inconvenienced.

Negotiations continued on Friday.

The unions were earlier in the week offered a compromise proposal of 8.75% for the first year and an 8.25% across-the-board increase for the second year, an improvement from the initial offer of 7%. The unions initially demanded 12%.

The five unions are the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, National Union of Metalworkers of SA, Transport and Allied Workers’ Union of SA, Transport and Omnibus Workers’ Union and the Tirisano Transport Workers’ Union.

The employer organisations are the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobea) and SA Bus Employers’ Association.

They have been negotiating since April 18.

The unions and employers have agreed to tackle the wage demand first and refer the rest of the demands to a special task team for a separate negotiation.

CE of Cobea Meshack Ramela said the employer associations on Thursday offered 9% for the first year and 8% for the second year, effective on the date of signing, but the unions wanted it backdated to April 1.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce said the strike had no winners. Spokesperson Dean Le Grange said the strike was proving to be a disaster for all involved because of the “no work, no pay” rule.

This means strikers will lose the equivalent of a month’s wages and that will wipe out the effect of any increase they get for a full year.

“Many of them have had to borrow money to feed their families so the debts are building up and they will end up paying high interest rates on their unsecured loans. In all probability they are already worse off than they were before the strike and their problems could continue for a long time.

“Hardest hit are the bus passengers who have to pay more to get to work. For many of them this has not been possible and they have lost pay and perhaps even their jobs. Their problems are not of their own making. There is no doubt that the strike has hurt the community.” he said.

Le Grange said employers have suffered too because without a full complement of staff they are unable to work efficiently and they could have lost customers.

“At this stage it is very difficult to say how much the strike has cost the economy but it will be a substantial number. We must also remember that this is a national strike and we are seeing only a small portion of the damage in our home cities and towns. Add it all up and it will be horrifying.

“I would like to challenge the unions to conduct a secret ballot on this strike so that they and the public can know what the workers really think. We know what the union bosses think but that might not represent the views of the strikers.”

Meanwhile, the taxi industry, the biggest financial beneficiary of the strike, has denied allegations that fares on some routes have been increased unjustly and more unregistered taxis have been added to cover the demand. SA National Taxi Council spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa denied that such practices were sanctioned by the association and said they should be reported to the associations.

“If people decide to board unregistered taxis, we cannot take responsibility for what happens to them; we urge them to report taxis without stickers because they are encroaching on our turf,” he said.

. A 12% wage increase across the board;

. Scrapping of entry minimum rate of R5 500 a month against current wage rates;

. Full pay for all alternative drivers;

. Long-distance subsistence allowances; and

. Allowance for specialised skills.

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