Bus strike talks collapse, secondary strike mooted

Wage talks between the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and Metrobus have deadlocked, with the possibility of a secondary strike being mooted.

A secondary strike would draw in municipal workers from across the province, said Samwu spokesperson Dumisani Langa on Wednesday.

He said the union walked out of talks after Metrobus returned with the same proposal they put on the table when the talks began three weeks ago.

“We don’t negotiate for the sake of negotiating, Metrobus is not even thinking about solving the problem.

“They came back with an offer that was presented to us as the opening offer. There is no need to continue talking,” Langa said.

The stalemate arose after the mediator put forward a proposal, which the union accepted but Metrobus took issue with. The mediator’s offer, according to Metrobus managing director Herman van Laar, was financially unsustainable.

Metrobus then returned with a counter offer, which caused the union to walk out of the negotiating chamber.

“The mediator made a proposal ...
it was a proposal that Metrobus could not afford,” Van Laar said.

“It would be pointless to agree to a settlement that would bleed the company to death.”

Prior to the mediator’s offer, monetary settlements were agreed upon but the main sticking point was the inability of Metrobus employees to move to a higher salary scale.

All drivers earned the same monthly wage, regardless of how many years they had served the company.

Van Laar said putting together an offer to deal with this was “complicated” but denied that the company had returned to the negotiating table with the opening offer.

“No, it was not the same as the opening offer ... progression is complicated. Every time we went to make up a proposal we looked at its impact.

“Its not the same offer, they came in and looked at it and it looked similar, but if you interrogate it, you will see it is not the same,” he said.

Samwu was in talks with its provincial members over the possibility of a secondary “solidarity strike”. Should it go ahead, it would include municipal workers across all sectors.

“If possible we will file notice by tomorrow [Thursday] or Friday,” Langa said. The secondary strike would likely begin by May 28 as the union needed time to ensure all the legalities had been satisfied.

Faced with the strike continuing into its fourth week, Van Laar urged the union to think about the commuters—hundreds of whom have been left stranded since it began.

“We should ask the question is it fair to the commuter,” he said, adding that the company’s “door is always open” for negotiations to resume.

“We would like them to interrogate the offer.”

A 2007 Metrobus strike saw 21 violent incidents, including murder, reported to the police.

This month’s strike has been peaceful so far, but no Metrobuses are running because the company said it could not guarantee the safety of drivers standing in for the striking workers.—Sapa

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