Passenger bus strike threat as Numsa declares dispute over wages

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The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has officially declared a dispute in its passenger bus wage talks at the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council (Sarpbac) after demanding that the lowest wage category involved in the talks be bumped up to R12 000 a month in January.

During negotiations with the South African Bus Employers' Association (Sabea) and the Commuters Bus Employers' Organisation (Cobea), Numsa called for a R4 200 wage hike for the lowest-paid category of bus drivers and commuter bus employees.

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majole told Fin24 that the the matter will be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) next, following registration of the dispute at Sarpbac.

By mid-March, the period would have lapsed for the dispute to be settled before the union is eligible for a strike certificate from the CCMA.

In a statement released on Thursday, Numsa secretary general Irvin Jim said that after two sessions with employers in the past month the union opted to register the dispute, as the union could not find common ground with the employer.  

"We demand that the lowest paid must be moved up to R12 000 per month. Currently, the lowest earner gets approximately R7 800. We demand an across-the-board increase that includes allowances. For two years our members have not been getting across-the-board increases because of Covid-19, and no allowances were increased for the period of two years," said Jim.

Jim also demanded that all workers be covered in a medical aid scheme where companies contribute 80% and workers contribute 20%.

"Currently some companies offer medical aid, but the rates are so unaffordable for members that they have been forced by circumstances to go without medical aid cover," Jim said.

Jim said the union demanded less overtime for workers as some worked 14-hour shifts and a night shift allowance for those working extended hours.

"Employers are not willing to entertain a proposal for a meaningful increase. They claim that they cannot afford it. They are offering only 2.5% per year over three years as an increase.

"To make matters worse, they have attached conditions to that proposal. We must be willing to drop some of our core demands, including the demand for family responsibility leave, the introduction of a compulsory medical aid, annual bonus and the allowance for the bi-articulated and the train driver if we want to receive the increase of 2.5% per year which they are offering us," he said.

He said Numsa did not believe the "claims of poverty" made by employer groups during the wage talks and demanded that they disclose full subsidy arrangements with government, if they want their pleas to be entertained.

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