The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) in the Western Cape has accused Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) of misleading the provincial government by declaring itself an essential services company thereby forcing its employees to defy the lockdown.
Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on the 23rd of March of a nationwide lockdown in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, workers and families were uncertain about how this would affect their day-to-day lives. All shops and businesses were to be closed except for those categorised under the national disaster regulations as an essential service. The list includes water supply, medical products and transportation for essential staff and goods.
In a statement released by NUMSA on the 29th of March, the trade union claims that the bus company is manipulating the coronavirus crisis for its own financial gain. This was emphasised by the reported arrest of two bus drivers on day one of the lockdown for carrying busloads of passengers at Vangate Mall in Athlone and AZ Berman Drive in Mitchells Plein. According to NUMSA, the buses were fully loaded in direct contravention of the social distancing regulation and they are investigating the involvement of their own members in these incidents.
This takes place amidst the global panic caused by a highly contagious coronavirus that is spread through sneezing or coughing droplets and is known to survive on surfaces for more than 3 hours.
Golden Arrow rejected NUMSA’s accusation of misleading the Western Cape government, stating that the company had been authorised by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to provide essential services during the period of the lockdown.
“Beyond contractual responsibilities, Golden Arrow has an ethical responsibility to continue to provide services to our nurses, other essential services staff and social grant recipients who would be stranded if we simply stopped providing our services,” said the company spokesperson, Bronwen Dyke-Beker.
In addition, Golden Arrow denied the arrest of any of its bus drivers for contravention of lockdown regulations, countering that the drivers who got arrested were not from GABS. The bus company said that, until Monday the 30th of March 2020, it had no guidelines on how many passengers can be carried by a bus in order to keep safe social distance.
Nolusindiso Fisa (50) has been commuting between Nyanga and Khayelitsha by Golden Arrow bus, every day for five years for work. She recalls boarding the morning bus on the 25th of March and noticing that the bus driver was not wearing any gloves or mask as a protective measure for himself and his passengers; nor was there any sanitiser visible in the bus.
Upon querying the lack of these things after her trip, Fisa was told that a sanitiser that’s effective for 24-hours is used in all the buses when they return to the depot at the end of each day and that she’d receive more feedback after a managerial meeting Golden Arrow was going to have on that day. “I still don’t feel safe as a Golden Arrow passenger because even if there are sanitisers – what if the person next to you has the virus and you contract it from them? There is no social distancing in the bus,” said Fisa.
A meeting between NUMSA and Golden Arrow on Monday came to a lukewarm resolution, according to NUMSA, with both parties agreeing to disagree on whether or not the company provides an essential service.
On Thursday, the Western Cape Premier, Allan Winde said that the province has 393 confirmed cases of covid-19 with the majority of those residing in Cape Town Metro. Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain district have two and seven cases respectively.