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DURBAN'S municipal bus service is in turmoil again after hundreds of drivers marched on the city hall yesterday demanding that the newly appointed operator employ all workers retrenched by its predecessor.
The laid-off bus workers, mostly members of the Transport and Allied workers Union (Tawusa), threatened "mass-scale disruption of the new service" unless the new operator, Transnat Africa, took on all the drivers employed by the previous company.
The drivers vowed that Transnat Africa would not operate in Durban while they were jobless.
About 1300 workers lost their jobs when the BEE firm Remant Alton closed shop last month.
Transnat Africa said its service would run on Monday despite the threats. The company also rejected allegations that it had threatened to pull out of the deal.
The protesting bus drivers were joined by traders from the Early Morning Market, who are battling the city's plans to move them to a R1,5million redevelopment project in the area.
Tawusa general-secretary Zack Mankge said the workers held the city accountable for the unemployment of their members.
"The new bus operator is not at fault here, it is the people who gave the company the contract who stipulated they employ 80percent of its staff from the former Remant Alton staff.
He said they were marching to hand over a memorandum to the municipality, who were responsible for "this mess".
Mankge called for all the city's communities to join their struggle, vowing it would otherwise continue to be without a bus service.
Mike Jesserman, Transnat Africa's chief executive, said the union had not approached his company.
They had heard through the news media that the former drivers were planning to disrupt operations.
He said his contract required his company to hire 520 people, which it would start doing today.
"We will only be operating the outer-city operation. Our contract has been adjusted and cut down to fit the funds available for this job.
"What the unions and the drivers should understand is that I will hire according to my requirements, (which) is 80percent (of the previous contingent, about 520 drivers).
" If I employ all of them, who is going to pay them?" he asked.
He said his company would not recruit from outside but from the pool of experienced drivers who had been retrenched as they knew all the routes.
Jesserman said any disruption of the bus service would cause commuters to suffer.
"I have challenged the union to meet me. They have not come back to me. I am ready to sit down and talk about how we can work around this."
The city's bus service came to a halt when Remant Alton closed shop last month, leaving thousands of bus commuters stranded. Remant Alton had been awarded a contract to run the city's buses in 2003, but complaints of poor service and poor management of staff and funds soon followed. The company became bankrupt and retrenched all its workers.
On Monday, Tawusa lost its court battle to overturn the retrenchments of the 1300 workers.