strike cripples bus company

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

Commuters are feeling the pinch because bus company Remnant Alton has been crippled by a month-long drivers' strike.

It shut down the service yesterday and sent all support staff on paid leave, while confirming that the process to rehire bus drivers had been stymied by large-scale intimidation.

Commuters say they are counting the costs.

Doris Mthembu, a mother of three, said the strike had forced her to take taxis.

"My transport bill from my home to Durban has doubled," Mthembu said. "I now pay R1000 a month. Previously it was R500. How do I put food on the table as a domestic worker?"

Showing an empty wallet, office worker Thandi Ndlovu said she was depressed by the delays.

"Some of us take trains from home and then get to Durban and have to take two taxis to work," Ndlovu said.

"There are queues at all the taxi ranks and we run late for work."

Another commuter, Anna Zondi, said the municipality should bring back the bus drivers because the "taxis are unsafe".

"The bus service is cheap and safe and available until late at night."

Remnant Alton won the contract to take over the biggest bus operation in Durban in 2003 and operate in all major townships in and around Durban.

The multi-million rand deal was announced as the largest black economic empowerment deal in the history of the eThekwini municipality.

But there were allegations of mismanagement and poor service delivery, which compelled the eThekwini municipality to buy back the the buses in August .

It was resolved that the drivers would remain contracted to Remnant Alton but the drivers downed tools in an illegal strike and 800 of them were dismissed.

Several efforts to resolve the conflict have failed and yesterday taxi drivers and unions hoped that a last round of CCMA interventions would end the stalemate.

"We are told that the CCMA has called on city manager Michael Sutcliffe to attend a meeting with all stakeholders at his earliest convenience," Transport Workers Union spokesman Mlondi Memela said.

"We are hoping he will make himself available for the meeting. The drivers will not accept any outcome but for the city to employ them."

Suttcliffe said the matter was between the bus company and the union.

"It is not up to us to intervene in the affairs of a private company," he said. "It would mean that every time there is a problem we have to step in. We are waiting for the bus company to come up with a solution before the service will resume."

Economic expert Bonke Dumisa blamed the eThekwini municipality for the crisis.

"They had no right to contract such a vital service in the first place," he said. "They must stop playing politics, run the service themselves and employ each and every driver full-time."