Joburg Metrobus strike rolls on with intimidation, suppression claims abound

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Johannesburg bus service Metrobus has been crippled by strike action this week.
Johannesburg bus service Metrobus has been crippled by strike action this week.
  • Johannesburg bus service Metrobus has been crippled by strike action this week. 
  • Union Demawusa is demanding an 18% wage increase, a 14th cheque and that dismissed employees be reinstated.
  • City of Joburg said the industrial action was being perpetrated by a stark minority.

As the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality's passenger bus service Metrobus crawls through a week of strike action that has left its operation completely suspended since Wednesday, the operator accused a union it does not recognise of anarchy while the union cries suppression.

The Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers' Union of SA (Demawusa) embarked on a strike at the beginning of the week. Demawusa is demanding an 18% wage increase, a 14th cheque, a transport allowance, fair pay variations, and that dismissed employees be reinstated.

City of Joburg said in a statement that the industrial action was being perpetrated by a stark minority and implied but that the only unions recognised at Metrobus are the SA Municipal Worker's Union (SAMWU) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union.

"Management must commend the majority of employees (98.6%) who have faithfully presented themselves for duty since the commencement of the strike. However, due to ongoing threats of violence, these employees are not able to render services to the citizens of Johannesburg," the statement said.

Operations shut down

City of Joburg spokesperson Goodwill Shiburi said while Metrobus tried to continue operations through the strike on Monday, by Thursday, operations had shut down altogether due to violence and intimidation.

"It has entered the second phase. This week we were monitoring on the ground to look at the risk element, how many are willing to work and how many are not. Our employees are being threatened. There is a risk that if you operate and the buses are petrol-bombed, then that is a risk to commuters," Shiburi said.

Shiburi said the demand for employees to be reinstated at Metrobus was peculiar as the people the demand refers to were dismissed from Metrobus for misconduct.

"They ... can easily intimidate and threaten employees and depots. There is a statement by members of SAMWU saying that they want to go to depots and work. In actual numbers, you have 12 people who are members of this union and not willing to work," said Shiburi.

'Violent minority'

Shiburi said of the entire workforce at Metrobus, only 1.4% of staff not willing to work, including mechanics and electricians and three or four bus drivers - at most. He said the organisation was being held hostage by a violent minority over ambitious demands.

"It is [an] 18% salary increment. It is [R]15 000 Covid-19 allowance for all. The other one is a 14th cheque for all. The other is R150 per employee per day for transport. And the other one is for fired employees to be reinstated," he said.

Shiburi said the demands were further complicated by the fact that the bargaining council where employees negotiate their wages was central and that Metrobus did not fully recognise Demawusa as a union.

"It is taking slightly longer than it's supposed to resolve this. Operations are formally suspended. We are citing security for employees and commuters. One of the plans we were going to utilise is having JMPD [Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department] accompany buses. But what happens when a driver has to go home to Thembisa at the end of the day?" Shiburi said.

Shiburi urged commuters to arrange alternative transport, adding that Metrobus understood the inconvenience for commuters who have prepaid vouchers to take the Joburg Metrobus. The strike has left an estimated 16 000 Johannesburg commuters stranded.

'Smear campaign'

Demawusa's Deon Makhura dismissed the claims by the City of Joburg as a smear campaign to "paint Demawusa as violent for striking for workers' rights".

"The comment we have is that from Monday, buses were running until Tuesday. Even on the news, everyone is standing together. So, I don't know where this violence is coming from. People are saying they are being targeted with violence, but I don't know where it is taking place," said Makhura.

Makhura accused Metrobus of favouritism, saying SAMWU went on an illegal strike for a week in April with no charges because they are supported by the ANC by virtue of their affiliation with Cosatu.

"If you look at our demands, the issue is that we gave reasons for the reinstatement. We are not saying there was no misconduct. There are many instances of misconduct, but the sanction of dismissal is selective. Managers guilty of serious misconduct have their cases swept under the rug," Makhura said.

Makhura denied that Demawusa had no recognition at Metrobus, saying a decision to terminate their recognition agreement at the passenger bus service was set aside by the Labour Court last year.

"I can tell you that you don't need to be recognised to participate in a strike. Full stop. The recognition agreement says we are recognised. We were deregistered last year, and they gave us notice of the termination of the recognition agreement. They went ahead and the decision was set aside by the Labour Court," he said.

Makhura challenged Metrobus to prove that its employees were being intimidated and targeted by Demawusa and to prove that the union had no recognition at Metrobus.

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