The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) supports the striking Johannesburg Metrobus workers belonging to one of our affiliates, the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (DEMAWUSA). The union is demanding that all Metrobus Services workers receive a wage increment, improved benefits and decent working conditions.
These are frontline workers who risked their own health to provide safe transit to working-class society during a pandemic. The SA Local Government Association is being egged on by Treasury to impose a real wage cut on all municipal workers, including these drivers. This is no way to reward the much higher risk they face, because at the same time Treasury is cutting corporate taxes and gifting yet more billions to subsidise passengers of elite transport.
When we consider the inadequate grants given to Metrobus (and its workers and passengers) on the one hand, and the state’s generosity to SAA and Mango passengers, or to Gautrain riders, or to overseas purchasers of luxury German vehicles made here but exported cheaply thanks to South African state grants, the extreme injustices of our society become evident. Metrorail and kombi passengers are similarly disadvantaged, but it is these Metrobus drivers and passengers whom we must initially support now, as we demand a Just Transition so public transit is finally given the priority it requires as move to a decarbonised economy.
In this context of insufficient state subsidies to working-class transport, the strike is regrettable but necessary. It results from the appalling working conditions, the undermining of workers’ rights, and Joburg’s running of our crucial bus services into decline and collapse. There are many factors that affect the 16 000 riders now without transport since in addition to DEMAWUSA a workers they too are sacrificing to improve our system.
The workers and passengers are all suffering from rising costs of living, especially as ruling-party corruption at Eskom has caused electricity prices to soar, and now food prices are following. Prices were higher thanks to the increase in Value Added Tax imposed by Treasury in 2018. And poor and working-class people face much faster-rising levels of inflation than the rest of the public, as even the International Monetary Fund has confirmed. The Johannesburg metro working class has also been attacked by the high levels of municipal corruption witnessed in ruling party mismanagement.
Not only are passengers in need of relief – through lower fares paid for by much higher national/provincial/municipal subsidies for public transport, not for SAA/Mango/Gautrain. The meagre wages at this public company must be increased, especially as the Covid-19 crisis appears to be soon reaching a Third Wave, endangering the workers’ lives. It is therefore important for workers to get a decent wage increment in order to keep up with the rising costs of living.
Cleaners at the bus company take home an estimated R8 000 after deductions. The bus drivers at lowest scale of pay take home about R12 000 after deductions. Compared to the average monthly cost of a household food basket in Johannesburg, which is more than R4 000 according to the Household Affordability Index, the wages of workers are inadequate. The average cost of groceries is more than half the cleaners’ income, and nearly a third of other workers at the bottom scale of pay. This is before factoring in other essential goods for households, rent, school fees, clothing, transport, soaring electricity prices and other important bills.
In addition, DEMAWUSA calls for an investigation of – and accountability for – the R48 million that was meant to fund refurbishment of services. In nearly all public sector entities, we fear that money might have vanished into smoke, thanks to ruling-party cronies who unashamedly loot public institutions and State-Owned Enterprises that are meant to provide basic services to ordinary city dwellers.
SAFTU has been vocal against corruption, and is vehemently opposed to economic crime being committed in the public and private sectors. Whether the rankings of Transparency International or PwC are referred to, everyone in society agrees that corruption is out of control and the Zondo Commission is clearly not intimidating the tsotsis. Therefore, we strongly support the call for forensic investigation into Metrobus.
Furthermore, we have noted with disgust the methods employed by Metrobus management’s refusal to negotiate in good faith with DEMAWUSA. In a scornful manner, management shunned the 28 demands put forth by DEMAWUSA by simply refusing to negotiate. Management’s’ adoption of this arrogant position in this dispute is enabled also by the fact that other unions in Metrobus are colluding with management against the interest of workers.
Though not surprising nor shocking, the SA Municipal Workers Union, SAMWU, has indicated that its employees are willing to work and do not support the strike. SAFTU wishes to point out that such an anti-solidaristic pronouncement by SAMWU is not a true reflection of its members, who are affected by the meagre wages, poor benefits and corruption at the entity just as they affect members of DEMAWUSA. The pronouncement by SAMWU reflects the capitulation of leadership of those trade unions whose main ambition is to gain favour and positions into the public entities.
The line pursued by SAMWU – encouraging its workers to return to work – is undermining unity of workers for the benefit of their bosses. Beyond undermining unity, such a posture can only serve to sow dissent amongst workers. It was shocking to observe SAMWU collaborating with management of Metrobus to call the cops to escort their members to work. Such an act already portrays, nonsensically, the striking workers of DEMAWUSA as violent hooligans who are predetermined to attack their fellow workers. In effect, this is tantamount to inciting workers against one another.
SAFTU encourages all Metrobus workers to unite in order to fight for higher public transport subsidies to both lower ticket prices and raise our workers’ wage increments, improve the pay progression, end favouritism, and probe the Metrobus services in order to exhume the possible acts of corruption that may be contributing to the decline of the company. The 16 000 daily commuters affected should align with workers to put pressure on management to concede to workers’ demands. By meeting workers’ demands, the strike would end soon, and bus services return to normal – but with lower ticket prices and workers able to withstand the crisis conditions we face under resurgent Covid-19, when our lives are at risk by coming to work, just as are our passengers’.
Collective bargaining is not a give and take, but an engaged platform for workers to put forward demands for increasing their wages or salaries and their general terms and conditions of employment, and in our case, advance broad social demands that uplift poor and working peoples’ lives.
At the same time, there is a need to remind government that South Africa is a member state of international labour organisations which ratified a convention on Collective Bargaining. So Metrobus disdain for our union’s efforts to negotiate is counterproductive, and must never again be expressed, or strikes like the current will continue to cause unnecessary harm to the city, to Metrobus, to passengers and to our own families.
SAFTU further calls on its affiliates to support the strike by Metrobus workers.
SAFTU supports all demands by DEMAWUSA. To view full demands, visit www.demawusa.org