The SA Road Passenger Bargaining Council (Sarpbac), a platform for employer organisations and unions to negotiate collective agreements, has defended the 4% wage increase for the bus industry, saying it will create stability in a sector trying to recoup losses spawned by Covid-19.

Some employers have said they could ill afford the increase as they were forced to cut back on operational costs by parking some of their coaches due to low demand, cutting workers’ salaries and laying off some employees.

The unions said they were disappointed at the wage hike as it does not address the rising cost of living.

The 4% increase, signed this week and effective from April 1, is below the 6% workers received last year — unions had initially demanded wage increases of between 7.5% and 8.5% — and lower than the 4.3% consumer price index average the Reserve Bank expects for 2021.

Reduced travel, the closure of borders and lockdown rules restricting occupancy numbers hit the bus sector hard, resulting in the Greyhound and Citiliner bus lines closing shop in February. About 4,000 employees are estimated to have lost their jobs.

Tumisang Kgaboesele, CEO of bus liner Africa People Mover, said it is serving about 40% of the pre-pandemic market in terms of passenger numbers. “Bus companies are struggling; some have shut down, and employees are not getting full salaries,” he said.

“The 4% wage increase is a complete shock because companies are cutting down on costs; there are buses parked that are going to need servicing ... it is a complete shock when companies are not generating any income.”

Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (Cobeo) CEO Meshack Ramela said: “Seen against the effects of the pandemic on the road bus passenger sector, the 4% wage increase represents a fair or win-win outcome of the negotiations between employers and labour.

“There are operators who are still to commence operations while many of those in operation are operating at 50% to 70% of pre-March 2020 capacity. Reduced economic activity results in less people travelling. This situation presents many operators with financial difficulties, so the 4% wage increase will be steep for many operators.”

Matlakala Motloung, national spokesperson of Putco, a commuter bus company with operations in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, referred questions to Sarpbac general secretary Gary Wilson, and so did SA Bus Employers’ Association (Sabea) president Terry Murugan.

“We have great sympathy for bus operators but they need to understand that collective bargaining is enshrined in the constitution. Unions have the right to negotiate wages every year and that’s what happened in this regard,” said Wilson.

“Operators have the right to argue that they can’t afford the wage hike due to the negative economic climate, but employees are also sitting in the same predicament. This year’s negotiations were extremely difficult because our industry has, for several years, always implemented above-inflation increases.”

Wilson said the wage increase will create stability and avoid unions embarking on a strike in the sector. “I think that is important for us as a council.” 

Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers’ Union (Detawu) passenger bus co-ordinator Mayibenathi Matwa said the 4% increase is a betrayal to workers because the sector was not completely shut during the lockdown as it was deemed an essential service.

“That 4% is too low, they can actually afford more. They can’t use Covid-19 as a scapegoat, their operations continued to run during the lockdown,” said Matwa.

SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) national co-ordinator in the bus sector, Solomon Mahlangu, said the union is disappointed at the wage hike as it does not address the cost of living.

“The cost drivers of inflation are transport, food and medical expenses; they have all increased by more than 4%. We accept this 4% hike with a heavy heart, it’s better than nothing.”

Autopax welcomed the settlement agreement, saying that it brings stability to the industry as a whole.

Update: April 14 2021 
This article has been updated with comment by Cobeo CEO.


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