DURBAN'S beleaguered bus service is being held to ransom by a labour union while thousands of commuters remain stranded.

Transnat Africa, the newly appointed operator of the municipal bus service, will go to the Pietermaritzburg high court this morning to seek an interdict against the Transport and Allied Workers Union (Tawusa) for "withholding labour".

Transnat wants to employ only the number of bus drivers it needs for the limited service it has been contracted to provide, but the union wants the company to employ all 1000-plus workers that were retrenched by the previous operator.

"We believe that Tawusa's actions are illegal. We cannot employ more drivers than the service needs," said Transnat boss Mike Jesserman.

"Their request is equivalent to our forking out an extra R2million a month in salaries. Everyone knows that our service is limited."

Tawusa's Zack Mankge was unavailable for comment yesterday, but recently said that the union would fight to ensure that every one of the retrenched workers was employed.

Thousands of commuters and students were stranded again last week when the buses failed to return to service. eThekwini municipality had promised that the service would be running, but the current dispute has stymied all efforts to restore the service.

More than 1500 students and about 45000 workers rely on the municipal buses for transport every day.

The city's transport woes started after BEE operator Remant Alton won the contract to run the municipal buses in 2003. It closed shop last month because of financial problems and dismissed all its workers.

"Once we get going we will roll out a fleet of 450 buses with some 55 spare," said Jesserman.