Autopax workers protest over nonpayment of salaries

'Days numbered' for Prasa-run bus operator

Mpho Koka Journalist
TransLux is one of the bus liners operated by Autopax. Workers are up in arms after the company was unable to salaries.
TransLux is one of the bus liners operated by Autopax. Workers are up in arms after the company was unable to salaries.
Image: Supplied via South Africa Travel Online

Employees at state-owned bus operator Autopax, who have not been paid their salaries, say they are uncertain of their future and that of the company which is in financial distress.

The bus company, a subsidiary of Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), which employs more than 900 workers, has failed to pay their September salaries leading to a protest march led by unions yesterday to Prasa offices.

The disgruntled workers who include bus drivers and mechanics told Sowetan that the "writing is on the wall" on the future of the company and that they feared the worst.

Some employees said they now face the prospect of being evicted from their rental homes and being homeless due to the nonpayment of their salaries. 

Yesterday, the National Union of Metalworkers and SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) led a march  in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, demanding that workers be paid their salaries.

This is not the first time that Autopax employees have found themselves without payment at the end of the month. In April and May salaries were also paid after payday because of "cash-flow problems".

Autopax bus driver Queen Ntulusi, 43, who lives in Randfontein with her two children, said she might be evicted from her flat today because she has not paid her monthly R4,000 rent.

“Not getting our salaries has affected us negatively. We do not have enough food in the house and we cannot pay our rent, hence our landlord wants to evict us. This is not the first time we have not been paid our salaries. Every time I have to make unusual payment arrangements with my landlord but now he is tired and wants me to move out. I was given seven days notice which ends tomorrow [today],” said Ntulusi.

Ntulusi, who has been working as a bus driver for 11 years, said her children have not been able to go to school for the past two weeks because she could not pay her R2,000 monthly scholar transport fee.

“The writing is on the wall. Autopax is no more. The funds are finished and we are being side-lined. They don’t even have the funds to retrench us. We are doing their services and we are not being paid. We are not being treated fairly,” said Ntulusi.

Diesel mechanic Joseph Sibiya, 43, who lives in Meadowlands, Soweto, said he is worried about his financial position due to the company's failure to honour their salaries.  

“If Autopax fails to pay us salaries or closes, I think I will struggle to find a new job. I will have to rely on people I know in my industry to assist me,” said Sibiya.

The father of three said he did not pay the R2,000 quarterly fee for his two school-going children because he was not paid.

“Now my children might be chased out of school next week. I managed to pay my rent but if I am still not paid in the coming months, I do not know if I will have a place to stay because I will have to use that money to pay the fees and buy food.”

A Satawu shop steward, who asked not to be named, asked why even if Autopax has cash-flow problems it prioritised paying suppliers ahead of employees.

"It looks like Autopax doesn’t have a financial future. Workers are paid this month and the next two months they struggle with getting their salaries,” he said.

Prasa spokesperson Bane Ndlovu said there are no guarantees that workers’ jobs will be safe in the long term amid the cash-flow problems .  

“The cost structures are too high, staff structures bloated and a Section 189 process is almost finalised. The fleet is obsolete and not economical to operate and ensure the operational model is efficient. There are engagements between Prasa and the department of transport to assist Autopax with urgent funding to resolve the matter,” said Ndlovu.

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