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Algoa Bus Service strike: Thousands must use alternatives after negotiations deadlocked

APRIL 11, 2017
Algoa Bus Service strike: Thousands must use alternatives after negotiations deadlocked

The Algoa Bus Company on Tuesday advised local commuters that it will suspend services at mid-night after wage negotiations between employers and workers represented by the SA Road Passenger Bargaining Council (SARPBAC) deadlocked.

The negotiations had been going on for the past three months and involved the country's 16 major bus companies. Industry-wide wage talks kicked-off in late January but reached a deadlock in the second phase of negotiations in March.

In an attempt to find each other, labour and employer associations took part in a mediation process led by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). However, the process did not produce an agreement. The CCMA issued a certificate of non-resolution subject to a 30-day mandatory cooling-off period before unions could embark on a strike.

The 30-day stay expired on Saturday, 8 April.

While the employers are offering a 7.5% wage increase, workers, represented by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) as well as two other unions, want at least 12%.

"However, money is not the only issue at stake. Labour was clear from the beginning that these talks were aimed at transforming the industry for the better," said Zanele Sabela, SATAWU Media Officer.

"But employers have stubbornly refused to relent on demands that are already stipulated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), citing the current Main Collective Agreement as justification. For instance, the agreement classifies night work as any work done between 8pm and 3am while the BCEA specifies work done between 6pm to 6am.

"Spread-over, where a driver reports for work for a three-hour morning shift, breaks for eight hours and then works a further five hours, is another factor that parties have failed to agree on."

Sabela said that workers want spread-over to be 12 hours a day while employers insist it should on 14 hours.

"What employers fail to recognise is that because no sleeping facilities are made available for drivers, when travelling time to and from work is factored in (an average hour each way) then what you have are sleep deprived drivers at the wheel. This is obviously a dangerous situation not only for bus commuters but for all road users.

"In addition, for long distance trips where two drivers relieve each other as fatigue sets in, employers are refusing to pay the relief driver from the start of the trip," she said.

"Instead they insist that if a driver’s 'foot' is not 'on the pedal', then said driver’s shift has not started. Unions want both drivers and support staff to be paid from start to finish of the trip."

The Algoa Bus Company employs more than 700 people and operates several routes between the Port Elizabeth CBD and the surrounding townships and suburbs. Thousands depend on its daily service to and from work. The buses also offer a reliable service to parents with school kids.

NUMSA had earlier on given the country's bus companies until the end of day on Tuesday to return to the negotiation table and agree to the demands of drivers to avoid a national strike on Wednesday.

Also affected are Putco, Golden Arrow, Mega Bus, Autopax and Rea Vaya buses among others, which ferry thousands of commuters daily in several major cities - including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

The unions, however, say that Wednesday’s strike could still be averted as they are still open to talks with the bus companies about a settlement before the end of the day.

"It is important to note, however, that labour is still willing to engage employers in the interim. But if by the end of the 60 hours employers have not brought a satisfactory offer to the table then unions will have no choice but to embark on industrial action starting 12 April," said Sabela.

Last year SATAWU approached the Labour Court to rule on the double driver issue.

Judgement in the case was reserved and we are yet to hear from the court.

It is estimated that at least 20% of South Africa’s population uses buses as their primary means of transport. Unfortunately, these are the people that will be impacted by the strike action if employer organisations do not bring a serious offer to the table before 12 April.