SA Transport Services (Sats) has lost more than R5-million in the last two weeks — because of a dispute with a worker over R40,40.
The worker in question, Andrew Nendzanda was fired for handing in the R40 late — and his dismissal sparked off industrial action which now involves 16 000 workers at 23 depots. The strike, which enters its third week today, has virtually crippled Sats’ distribution network, and hampered its container service to harbours around the country.
Nendzanda — a member of the SA Railway and Barbour Workers’ Union, which Sats refuses to recognise — maintains that Sats tried to victimise him. “I still believe I have done nothing wrong,” he said. “I can’t understand why I was fired because of such a minor issue.”
On October 24 last year, Nendzanda had to deliver a container to Springs and collect the R40,40 payment. “When I arrived back at the depot, I found that the cashier’s offices were closed,” he said. “As it was a Friday, I had to keep the money with me. I paid it in first thing on Monday, before taking my first delivery. “I was given a receipt and I thought everything was over. But the next day, I was called to the office and asked to explain why I cashed in late. I gave them my explanation, and they seemed to accept it.”
Almost five months later, on March 11, Nendzanda was summoned again — and told he was going to be “disciplined”. “I was given an envelope containing two letters; one suspending me from work, and the other dismissing me.” His colleagues asked him why he was not working, and he showed them the letters. “The drivers called a meeting and decided not to go back to work until I was reinstated,” he said.
Once the strike started, Sats called in union shop stewards at City Deep and told them they had reconsidered Nendzanda’s case, and decided to demote him to a “labourer” instead of firing him. This was rejected by the workers, Then Sats suggested he be employed as an “internal driver”, who only drove inside the depot. This, too, was rejected.
Sats finally suggested that Nendzanda keep his job, but pay an R80 fine — which was also rejected. Nendzanda said he had been overwhelmed by the support from his fellow workers and from Sarhwu — something of an understatement when one considers there are now 16 000 workers out on strike in protest at the way Sats treats its workers.
The strikers include truck drivers, railway workers and bus drivers in 23 goods and container depots in places like Germiston, Standerton, Braamfontein, Boksburg and East Kaserne. They are still demanding Nendzanda’s unconditional reinstatement, and full pay for the time they have been on strike. Management has offered half-pay to the strikers, which has been rejected, and appointed an arbitrator — which has also been rejected, as the arbitrator is a Sats employee.
This week, Nendzanda’s colleagues at City Deep clarified their claim that Sats “fires workers for absolutely no reason”. “We do not have a say here at City Deep,” one said. “The boss speaks, and it is the law. “Towards April, it gets particularly bad. That’s the month they pay bonuses — they obviously want to get rid of workers before, then, so they don’t have to pay out so much.”
Now, however, the strikers say Sats is having to pay for its attitude — to the tune of at least half a million rand a day. This figure comes from a statement by Sats’ Southern Transvaal manager, Abraham Spies le Roux, who said City Deep’s earnings were in the region of R500 000 a day.
The claim was made in a statement to the Supreme Court last week in support of Sats’ successful application for an interdict to stop workers from “disrupting operations” at City Deep.