Drawn-out bus strike a ‘lose-lose situation’

Commuters line up at a minibus taxi rank in Soweto, 18 April 2018, as a national bus strike left them stranded. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Commuters line up at a minibus taxi rank in Soweto, 18 April 2018, as a national bus strike left them stranded. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

When strikes become continuous they harm the economy, while striking bus drivers have already lost R5 520 each, an economist says.

The national bus strike is in its third week, with unions now awaiting a response from the bargaining council on their latest counteroffer.

South African Transport & Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) spokesperson Zanele Sabela said the unions have proposed a 9% wage hike in the first year and 8% in the second year, to be backdated to April 1.

This is after consulting bus drivers on the offer of 8.75% in the first year and 8.25% in the second year, as proposed by the bargaining council and the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Economist Mike Schussler said the prolonged strike was extremely harmful to the economy.

“This is not a rich industry and it doesn’t have a big profit margin. Ultimately, it would be more practical not to strike continuously,” he said. “The current passenger land transport industry, excluding rail transport and taxis, will need a lot of money to meet their demand. Their new counteroffer will cost the transport industry R4.5 million more.”

He believed there was a good chance unions and employers would reach an agreement as the difference between their current demand, and the employers’ offer, was very small. But it would be difficult for workers to recover from the loss of wages, he added.

“For the minimum salary of R6 900, their current counteroffer of 9% is a R17 difference to the proposed offer of 8.75%. With this increase of 9%, drivers would earn R7 500,” he said.

Schussler considered this increase to be somewhat of a pyrrhic victory.

“Now that the strike is on day 24, workers are looking at a loss of R5 520. It will be impossible for them to recover that money. They would have to make that money up with overtime.”

He suggested that the striking workers have lost a total amount of R287.5 million so far.

“Some of our unions go on strike too quickly and often propose wages that are too high. Industries are often unable to meet those demands. When strikes become continuous, they harm the economy. It would be wiser to have an enforced mediation before a strike extends to two weeks. I don’t think the strike was worth it.”

But Satawu disagreed.

Sabela said: “Although this has affected workers as they haven’t been earning, it’s a short-term loss for long-term gains.”

Also read: Bus strike continues as unions refuse offer

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