Labour federation Cosatu has threatened mass action if government insists on allowing minibus taxi operators to load up to capacity, in contravention of Covid-19 safety precautions.
“More than 70% of workers use taxis to go to work and as a labour federation we have a responsibility to protect them,” Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Phumla said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that minibus taxis on local trips, which under previous lockdown regulations were only allowed to load to 70% of their capacity, will now be allowed to fill their vehicles.
While Ramaphosa said taxi drivers should ensure vehicle windows were open at all times and that only people wearing masks should be allowed in, Phumla dismissed the new regulations as a “joke”.
“They make a mockery of the entire government plan to fight Covid-19. The only reason why government has come up with these bizarre regulations was because of threats that were being made by the taxi industry. It confirms that government has made a U-turn on its plan to regulate the taxi industry. This is blatant cowardice on the part of government,” he said.
The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) also rejected the government’s new minibus taxi regulations.
“Even this thing that minibus taxis must have open windows does not sit well with us. Can you imagine what will happen to passengers where these taxis drive on dirt roads, with all the dust and the wind — it will make people sick,” ANCWL provincial secretary Nonhlanhla Gabela said.
It was highly likely, Gabela said, that people who come up with the new Covid-19 taxi regulations had never been inside a minibus taxi.
“What is clear to us is that the president did not receive proper advice on the matter,” she said.
However, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the decision to allow short distance taxis to load at 100% capacity, but long-distance vehicles only at 70%, was based on scientific evidence.
“Studies from South Korea and China showed that the virus spreads quickly between people in a confined space for more than 20 minutes,” he said.
Even the taxi industry which, welcomed the decision to load minibus taxis, was not comfortable with the idea of keeping the windows open.
“There are currently discussions going on between the Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula, and the various taxi associations. The matter of the windows will be discussed there,” SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) spokesperson Thabisho Molelekwa said.
Shortly before Ramaphosa’s announcement, the taxi industry, which had expressed unhappiness over the amount of money that government had set aside to compensate taxi operators for the losses they had been suffering, had threatened to disobey the country’s lockdown regulations.
Santaco and the National Taxi Alliance (NTA) had threatened to load passengers at 100% capacity and operate across borders in violation of lockdown regulations should government fail to come up with a better offer.
Mbulula will this week make final announcements on the amended minibus taxi regulations.