As the national bus strike edges into its third week, unions and bus bosses are set to meet again on Thursday to see if they can resolve the sticking points of the protracted negotiations.
The strike — which started on April 16 — has left commuters all over the country without transport.
Five different unions are participating in the strike, including the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the Tirisano Transport and Service Workers Union, the Transport and Omnibus Workers Union and the Transport and Allied Workers Union.
Despite interventions from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and labour and transport ministers, the negotiations between unions, drivers and bus bosses have consistently ended in a stalemate.
Satawu said the labour minister Mildred Oliphant managed to get the unions to lower their wage demands from 9.5% across the board for the first year and 8.5% for the second to 9% and 8.5% respectively.But the union said in a press statement employers had failed “to rise to the occasion”.
The last offer made by employers associations is an 8% wage increase for the first year and 8.5% for the second, said John Dammert from the employer’s caucus.
Last week, Satawu intimated employers in the bus industry had given the unions until Wednesday to accept this offer. Dammert denies such an ultimatum was made.
“Giving ultimatums is not in our domain as an association and it totally runs against the grain of negotiating in good will,” Dammert said.
Dammert added that the reason employers are sticking to their guns on the current offer is because of the ever-present operational difficulties faced by the bus sector. He cited Putco’s mass retrenchments and the bailout of Autopax after the company was unable to pay staff.
He explained the bus sector — in addition to operational difficulties — is dealing with dwindling support in the form of subsidies from the department of transport as another reason why employers could not meet the demands made by unions.
But the department of transport has refuted this claim, saying that for 2018/19 financial year there has been a 3.24% increase on the Public Transport Operations Grant paid to operators.
Head of communications for the department Collen Msibi said that it is “incorrect to generalise that the ‘bus sector’ is suffering because of an inadequate increase to the subsidy because not all bus companies at the bargaining council are subsidised”.
Msibi added that, while commuter bus services are subsidised, long distance buses — which are also participating in the strike negotiations — are not subsidised.