Unions take on bus bosses seeking wage exemptions

Following the bus company’s application to be exempt from May’s wage agreement, Putco has reportedly been ordered to pay workers their wage increases.

According to transport unions Algoa, Golden Arrow, Putco, Amogelang and Phumatra Transport Enterprise — which all signed the wage deal with unions following the gruelling 26-day strike — have applied to be exempt from the agreement.

At the end of June, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) raised alarm bells when it alleged Putco had refused to pay the wage increase and bonuses to its workers following the retrenchment of 220 workers.

Putco’s exemption hearing was heard by the bargaining council on June 29.

The move by the bus bosses to seek exemption follows the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council’s application to the labour minister for the deal to be extended to cover all companies in the sector, with only 80% represented by the council.

READ MORE: Saftu slams bus bosses threatening to take wage deal to court

Bus companies have reportedly cited recent fuel hikes as a reason why they cannot pay the wage increases.

May’s wage deal stipulated that workers would be paid a 9% wage increase in the first year and 8% in the second.

On Friday Putco was ordered to pay 7% of the agreed upon wage increase by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The remaining 2% must be paid in January 2019. Putco was also ordered to pay bonuses for this year. The company must seek out a second application if it wants to be exempt from the 2019 wage increase.

“The order is a victory for workers who were on strike for almost a month,” Satawu spokesperson Zanele Sabela said.

Throughout the wage negotiations, bus bosses insisted they could not pay the proposed wage increase. During the strike Golden Arrow spokesperson John Dammert explained that the bus sector — in addition to experiencing 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.

On Monday, the CCMA in Cape Town heard Golden Arrow’s application for exemption.

According to Sabela, Golden Arrow has resolved to pay the wage increase for 2018, but is seeking exemption from the 8% increase for 2019. Sabela also told the Mail & Guardian that the company is seeking to nullify its pay progression agreement.

Sabela said that the Putco order has given the union confidence that the exemption applications made by Golden Arrow and the other bus companies would be thrown out.

“It gives us hope and encourages us to keep fighting the good fight,” she said.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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