After six-and-a-half hours of talk at the Garden Court hotel next to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport, the national bus strike negotiations again deadlocked on Thursday evening.
Although the five unions represented agreed to phase in their demand for a night shift to be regarded as being from 18:00 to 06:00, the employers held firm on the current 20:00 to 03:00.
Blade Nzimande did however apparently mention that he, as transport minister, would look into the subsidy question for municipal bus services.
Although no figures were quoted, it is understood that local bus services receive several hundred million rand in annual subsidies from government.
'Bosses out to break us'
Nzimande and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant attended the meeting but were unable to broker any breakthrough. One of the negotiators noted: “It seems the bosses are out to break us.” Significantly, the five unions are affiliated individually to the four labour federations in the country.
All stressed that they were united and remained so. However, it is admitted that without a strike fund, it will be difficult to maintain the strike for much longer, given the hardship faced by drivers.
“We have legitimate claims that relate to safety as well as to providing a better life for members,” Transport and Omnibus Workers’ Union general secretary Tony Franks said before negotiations began.
He and other negotiators admit they did not think the employers would be “so hardline”. When the meeting ended, employers reportedly warned that if the unions did not agree to maintaining the night shift times, they would revert to their original wage proposal of 8% for this year and 8.5% in 2019.
When the meeting began, the employers offered a 9% increase for this this year and 8% for the next. However, they also wanted the payment backdated to May 1 instead of the usual April 1.