National bus strike: Thousands left to seek alternatives as Algoa Bus and Go George ground fleets

APRIL 12, 2017
National bus strike: Thousands left to seek alternatives as Algoa Bus and Go George ground fleets

Thousands of Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage commuters, mostly from the townships who rely on bus services, were on Wednesday forced to seek alternative means of transport after the Algoa Bus Company grounded its fleet as part of the nationwide bus strike.

The national bus strike also comes as millions are preparing to travel to various destinations over this Easter weekend - the taxi industry is not part of the strike is widely expected to make a killing as the strike progresses.

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

Industry-wide wage talks kicked-off in late January and involved the country's 16 major bus companies, but reached a deadlock in the second phase of negotiations in March.

Hoping 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 then 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.

"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.

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. While long distance buses Greyhound and Citiliner are affected by the strike, the Intercape bus service confirmed that it was not.

On Tuesday, the GO GEORGE bus service also advised commuters that it was grounding its fleet.

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," Sabela said.

It is estimated that at least 20% of South Africa’s population uses buses as their primary means of transport.