Bus drivers on strike for better working conditions

Long queues at the Kuwait taxi rank in Site C Khayelitsha. Archive Photo by Mzi Velapi

Bus drivers went on a national strike demanding better working conditions that include salary increases, insourcing and medical aid benefits for the drivers.

Terminus Road, Nyanga, Cape Town, South Africa

Bus drivers have embarked on an indefinite strike after the negotiations between four unions and the employer organisation deadlocked. The unions are demanding a 12% salary increase, a night shift that complies with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), insourcing of the workers and an industry medical aid for the bus operators.

Solomon Mahlangu, the national coordinator for the passenger sector at the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), said that the employer has refused all of the demands that they have put on the table. “They are offering a 7% salary increase and we are demanding 12%. Even though its not ideal, we think it will help to increase the salary levels of the bus operators,” he said.

According to Mahlangu, the bus operators work the longest hours in the country as they work up to 14 hours a day. He added  that drivers who don’t collect cash from passengers earn about R7,800 a month whilst those who do earn R9,800 a month.

The other demands that the union has put on the table relate to the issue of allowances. He said that currently drivers get R561 per day for long distance routes. “From that R561 they are supposed to get accommodation and food and we all know that is not enough,” he said.

According to the BCEA, the night shift starts from 6pm until 6am but the industry has its own schedule from 8pm until 3am. According to the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), the industry should comply with the BCEA and the bus operators must be paid the full night shift allowance. The union claims the industry currently uses a different definition for night shift, robbing workers of their full allowance.

Bus drivers holding a meeting at the bus terminus in Cape Town. Photo by Bernard Chiguvare

Elitsha spoke to some bus drivers at Cape Town bus station who had gathered to be addressed by their representatives.

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“I wake up around 02h30 everyday preparing to be picked up by 03h15 for work. This is at times frustrating. I have not much time with my family,” says a 41-year-old female MyCiti bus driver who stays in Khayelitsha. She preferred not to be identified.

“Yes there is some form of security in the bus but some routes are not safe. When I take the Hout Bay route I feel very unsafe. There are a lot of skollies and as I drop and pick passengers, I am not sure of the next person coming in. It is best managers provide some form of security,” she said.

Before driving for MyCiti, she was previously with Golden Arrow Buses (GABS) from 2003 to 2009.

“I remember going for maternity leave when I was still working for GABS but what surprised me was that for the three months I went for leave I only got money from my Unemployment Benefit Fund,” she said.

Another driver from Crossroads said, “We are getting very little money. It cannot sustain my family. I pay fees and R600 transport for my two children every month.”

The 49-year-old Golden Arrow bus driver has no problem with working hours as long as the salaries can meet monthly needs.

He has been working for the company since last year.

On the issue of medical aid, Solomon Mahlangu from SATAWU said that they have proposed a medical aid for the bus drivers but the employer organisation has refused. “There is a bus driver who was in an accident in Harrismith and he suffered brain damage. We believe if he had gotten high level medical care his situation would not be that bad,” he said.

Mahlangu claims that after the employer organisation refused the medical aid, SATAWU made a concessionary proposal for a feasibility study but this too was refused.

The union is also fighting the way the employer is exploiting the ‘double drive’ phenomenon. According to Mahlangu, when there are two drivers driving long distance, the driver gets paid according to the time their foot is on the pedal. “They only pay the foot that was on the pedal. The second driver who is in the bus doesn’t get paid even though they are at work,” explained Mahlangu.

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Strike Impact

Early in the morning Elitsha was at Nyanga Terminus and Kuwait taxi rank in Khayelitsha.

There were long queues. School children were seen loitering. Some even went back home because they could not manage standing in the queue.

“Today the queues are longer than other days. Look at the Cape Town queue – its winding. Most school children use buses but today we see some are in the queue and they are already late,” says Zodwa Nciya a cleaner at Nyanga Terminus.

Both at Nyanga terminus and Kuwait taxi rank, the Cape Town and Bellville queues were the longest.

“We had to wake up very early today because we are not sure how long we will wait for the taxi to take us to Marian High School. We usually get a 07h00 Golden Arrow bus and be at our school by 07h30 but now its already 07h25,” said a learner who was in the company of others.

The learners prefer using buses over taxis. “We are not happy using taxis because their driving is not safe and they normally speed much,” says one of the learners, checking whether by any chance there was a Golden Arrow Bus at the terminus.

Meanwhile, Bronwen Dyke-Beyer from GABS urged commuters to hold on to their monthly and weekly tickets.

“We will be extending all valid clip cards when services resume. Passengers are urged to hold on to the cards,” she says.

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