Bus strike to continue into long weekend as unions vow to ‘keep fighting’

UPDATE: This article includes comments from an updated statement from Transport Minister Blade Nzimande and Labour Minister Mildred Olifant.

Unions representing workers in the bus strike say that they have made compromises on their demands while employers have remained inflexible.

The five unions involved in the bus strike issued a joint-statement on Thursday evening after negotiations involving employers, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande and Labour Minister Mildred Olifant reached a deadlock. Talks lasted for six-and-a-half hours at the Garden Court hotel next to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport, Fin24 reported.

According to the unions; Satawu, Numsa, Tirisano, Tawusa, and Towu; despite the intervention by ministers employers and workers remain "far apart" in reaching an agreement.

The unions have moved from their original demand of a 12% wage increase across the board to 9.5%, after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration intervened. Employers were offering an 8% increase. The unions also settled for a two-year agreement as opposed to the original one-year agreement. Workers still have no medical aid and other benefits.

"In comparison, the employers have not made any attempts to move the negotiations in a positive direction," the statement read.

"It is deeply concerning that both the ministers of transport and labour were unable to convince the employers to do the right thing."

The unions called on their members to continue the strike into the long weekend. "Striking is the only way to force bosses to give in. We will extend the strike into the long weekend and beyond because the bosses in the sector only care about profits, and not people.  They certainly don’t care about commuters or their employees," the statement read.

"We apologise to our communities for the inconvenience but we have no choice but to keep fighting."

SA Road Passenger Bargaining Council secretary Gary Wilson said that the issues raised in negotiations date back a number of years. "Some of the benefits [being negotiated] come back on the table year after year for the last 10 years," he said. "The public don't understand the complexity of it."

It was not as as simple as settling on an across the board pay increase, but issues such as driver over-time and long distance dual driver pay questions also need to be settled, he explained.

This week Cabinet held a meeting where the national strike, bus strike and public sector wage negotiations were discussed. Cabinet called for stakeholders in the public transport sector to bring a speedy end to the national bus strike, said Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. 

"We urge all parties to return to the negotiation table so as to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of all parties and the country," she said in the post-Cabinet statement.

Nzimande and Oliphant issued a joint media statement after being briefed by parties on their bargaining positions on Thursday. According to the ministers both parties made concessions to their original positions held prior to negotiations.

“Both ministers called on all parties involved to find a negotiated settlement under the allowable rules and regulations in the interest of all South Africans.

“Whilst the Ministers are not party to the negotiations, the only reasonable outcome that they expect from the negotiations is the immediate resumption of bus operations, whilst labour and employers are finding a permanent solution to the impasse,” the statement read.

Autopax to pay staff salaries

Unions also bashed claims from bus company Autopax, which had failed to pay its workers, blaming the strike as a contributing factor for its cashflow problems. Unions said that the financial woes were not because of the strike but rather poor management by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), of which Autopax is a division.

They claimed that Autopax was using the strike as an excuse not to pay workers in an effort to get the unions to end the strike. 

Steve Harris, general secretary of the United National transport Union (UNTU) confirmed to Fin24 by phone on Friday that Prasa stepped in to sort out the matter which was escalated to Nzimande.

Prasa has allocated R50m to Autopax to ensure staff are paid, he said. Harris expects workers to be paid by Monday, the latest. "It’s a total disaster and unacceptable for a state-owned enterprise to treat employees under these circumstances," he said. 

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