NUMSA prepares Easter bus strike in SA

Rally of bus workers in Johannesburg – they have rejected the employers 2.5% pay increase

Employers in bus wage talks in South Africa claim that the trade union’s wage demands are ‘unaffordable’, setting the stage for a strike struggle that could bring the whole country to a standstill as soon as Easter weekend.

The South African Bus Employers Association (SABEA) and the Commuter Bus Employers Organisation (CBEO) claim the bus sector cannot afford the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (NUMSA) wage demands because they amount to an almost 35% increase.

The sector has already suffered job losses which cut employee numbers from 24,000 in 2020 to 15,000 in 2022.

The employer associations in the bus passenger sector have been in talks with unions at the South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council (Sarpbac) since the beginning of the year.

However, the talks have been in a deadlock which prompted the bargaining council to issue a labour certificate of non-resolution.

Numsa has since approached the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) for a strike certificate.

The union has also confirmed that it is in the process of finalising picket rules and is on the verge of a strike.

Numsa has demanded wage hikes in the passenger bus sector that would see the lowest-earning category of employees receive a R4,200 pay rise and earn as much as R12,000.

The union also demands a range of allowances for late shift work and expenses such as travel.

Employers are offering just a 2.5% increase to the lowest-earning category of employees.

A joint statement by Sabea and Cobeo said the passenger transport industry has faced several challenges in recent years, such as the impact of Covid-19 on operations, increasing unemployment, poor economic conditions, and reduced passenger numbers.

‘Significant job losses have already taken place with employee numbers reducing from 24,000 in 2020 to 15,000 in 2022,’ the statement said.

The statement added that employers in the sector could not afford the wage increase demands from labour or any of the added benefits and allowances in labour’s list of demands.

‘The current demands represent almost a 35% employee cost increase which is unaffordable in an industry already facing many challenges,’ the statement said.

Numsa secretary general Irvin Jim said the union has tried its best to avoid a strike in the sector, but that employers are refusing to budge from their offer, ‘forcing’ Numsa to go outside of the bargaining process.

‘We are currently observing the mandatory 30-day cooling-off period, after which we can serve the 48-hours notice to strike,’ he said.

‘We have also concluded picketing rules. The cooling-off period will end on 13 April which is two days before Good Friday weekend.’

Jim said Numsa rejects the offer from employers, saying it would create a ‘two-tier labour market’ where some workers are paid more than others for the same work.

The employers’ joint statement claimed that they and bus operators represented at Sarpbac remain committed to the negotiation process and would continue trying ‘to find amicable solutions’.

Meanwhile, the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Quarter 4 of 2021 was released on Thursday March 31st.

The statistics show that the so-called official unemployment rate grew by 0.4%, taking the official statistics from 34.9% in the third quarter to 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The number of officially unemployed people is 7.92 million, but when those who have given up looking for jobs are included, the total number of unemployed people is 12.4 million.

Unemployment is still above 50% among women; 77% amongst the youth between the ages of 15 – 24 years; and just a little over 50% among black people.

Between December 2020 and December 2021, the overall expanded unemployment rate worsened, from 42.6% to 46.6%. That is a net increase of 4% in just 12 months; while GDP was up 4.9%.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has issued a strong statement following these figures, headed:

Unemployment and Capitalism

‘The delinking of capitalist profitability and economic growth from the mass of society’s basic needs has never been more blatant.

No other industrialised economy has such a low rate of labour absorption.

South African capitalism is clearly our society’s enemy, as profits rose during 2021 while jobs and living standards of the vast majority fell.

South African capitalism has demonstrated for over a decade now, that it is not able to create jobs for the majority of working-class people.

‘The net job losses of 16,000 – amid an increasing number (0.4%) of the working age population – means the economy is shedding jobs whilst simultaneously failing to create new jobs for those entering the labour force.

This raises the critical question: why is capitalism failing to create jobs in South Africa?

Firstly, local capitalism is failing because cheap labour is in the DNA of South African capitalism dating to the eras of slavery and colonial dispossession. High unemployment rates plus class war on our trade union movement are the current ways to lower labour costs.

In a capitalist economy, business enterprises’ sole motive is to produce commodities for exchange, in the process of which the ultimate outcome is profit maximisation.

To maximise profit, capitalism minimises the costs of production by targeting the costs of labour amongst others.

Hence, in almost every restructuring process, it is workers who take huge losses either through reduction in wages or retrenchments or both.

The case of Clover dairies – now Israeli-owned and therefore steeped in a culture of brutalising Palestinians – is illustrative: more than 2,700 workers have been retrenched after going on strike due to recent cuts in wages and working conditions.

This is a stark illustration of how capitalism prioritises cost rationalisation so as to maximise profits.

The case of Clover also reveals another reason why capitalism in South Africa is failing to create employment: the neoliberal African National Congress government presides over a neocolonial economy in which multinational corporations export capital ever more freely, with the expectation that they can super-exploit workers so as to maximise profits.

The main aim of such corporations in South Africa is to locate cheap labour, deregulate labour markets and liberalise trade markets, as well as raw materials, so as to maximise profits through exploitation.

This also often occurs through thievery, in what is termed illicit financial flows.

In addition, the captains of finance and industry in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are hoarding at least R1.4 trillion of investable money.

This phenomenon, which accompanies what can be called an investment strike, which is a systemic decline in real gross fixed capital formation, one that has lasted for a decade, at the expense of new machines, plant, buildings and employment.

The situation worsened from 2018 when President Cyril Ramaphosa took office, with jobs in manufacturing and construction the main victims of the investment strike.

But all sections of the service sector have also suffered from net job losses

Capitalists scapegoat their refusal to invest in the productive sectors of the economy by citing instability and uncertainty.

This, according to pro-capitalist commentators, contributes to low levels of business confidence, which was recorded at 94.1% in January 2022, a major improvement over 2020 when the South African Chambers of Commerce and Industry complained that business confidence was down to the levels last seen in the mid-1980s when capitalism was under its greatest-ever threat.

The Myth of Trickle Down and Job Creation

Something that does not surprise us is the growth of certain sectors of the economy that do not correspond with job creation. In the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics published by StatsSA on the 8th of March 2022, Manufacturing and Transport grew by 2,8% and 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2021 respectively.

Despite these positive growths in the sectors, unemployment was shed in the same quarter (4th quarter 2021).

Transport shed 13,000 jobs and Manufacturing shed a whopping 85,000. This means that the positive output growth in these sectors does not translate into job creation.

Therefore, increased productivity in those sectors was achieved with far less workers.

This means exploitation was intensified to achieve those levels of production increases in the sector.

We now know that such increased productivity was not accompanied by increase in jobs.

Capitalism Must Be Abolished

The crises of unemployment, inequality and poverty are direct offsprings of South African capitalism.

Because our entire region – including our former Bantustans – rely on migrant labour as yet another historic mode of cheapened labour, some in our society become xenophobic, as witnessed not only in campaigns like Operation Dudula, which blame the scourge of unemployment, poverty and crime on immigrants.

Government officials and political party leaders seem to have no qualms about their own xenophobia this year, when in past years government at least adopted internationalist and PanAfricanist rhetoric.

SAFTU reiterates that our problems are not created by Asian and African immigrants, but are created by capitalism – a system that is predicated on enriching the few at the expense of the majority.

We call on unemployed workers to redirect their anger from immigrants, who clearly are used as scapegoats by the ideological apparatus of capitalism, towards the capitalist system and the land dispossessors.

We rally workers behind the Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (KAAX) to combat the misinformation and deception that seeks to paint immigrants as the cause of our social problems.

Our anger must be directed at combating austerity measures and abolishing capitalism.

And we insist on a transition to socialism, not only because this is how our own humanity and respect for all life can be expressed – but because it is abundantly evident that South African capitalism is so utterly unsuited for this country, as the new labour statistics prove yet again.’