Saftu Urges Full Support For Bus Workers

Bus drivers on strike in South Africa’s Gauteng province
Bus drivers on strike in South Africa’s Gauteng province

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has come out in full support of the rejection of the latest offer from the employers to the striking bus workers’ unions.

‘SAFTU urges all workers to continue and intensify their solidarity action in support of their fellow workers who are in the fourth week of a strike against intransigent employers,’ said SAFTU’s Zwelinzima Vavi in a statement on Saturday.

The strike, by more than 17,000 drivers, has ground transport services to a halt in many cities across the country, leaving commuters forced to find alternative transportation. The strike has been supported by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), the Transport and Omnibus Workers Union (Towu) and the Tirisano Transport and Services Workers Union.

Vavi also called on all unions and progressive civil society formations to send messages of support and to join the striking workers outside bus depots. He also advised them to prepare for solidarity action in the event that employers refused to settle. Vavi said this was a critical struggle, not just for workers in the bus sector, but for the whole South African working class, who faced a ‘concerted offensive by bosses who think they have the upper hand against the workers’.

‘They must be proved wrong!

‘The unions’ case for increased pay and better conditions is absolutely justified and so is their call for any agreement to be backdated to reflect the date when the new wage agreement was supposed to take effect, which in this case is April 1, 2018, and not from the date of signing, as employers are now demanding,’ he said. Vavi thanked the workers for being prepared to suffer hardship for themselves and their families, in order to escape from poverty and exploitation, and for their discipline and courage throughout the strike.

On Friday afternoon NUMSA general secretary, Irvin Jim, said the unions would not be ‘blackmailed by the employers’. ‘We are not here for the continuation of the strike. We want to say to the employers: Pay the workers,’ he said. ‘We are going to persuade the employers to come to the party. In fact, this is selfish on the part of the employers. ‘We are saying the strike must come to an end this weekend. ‘The workers have so far been peaceful, and there is no need to provoke them by taking a hardline stand on the issue of back pay.’ ‘The bus strike is not over yet’, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa general secretary Irvin Jim said late on Friday afternoon.

Employers tabled an offer last Thursday of a 9% wage hike for the first year and 8% for the second.

The sticking point right now, Jim explained, is the issue of backdated pay to April 1. ‘We are now confronted with a difficult position of not calling off the strike,’ he said, and added that the majority of workers want the backdated pay. Jim said the unions are standing together with their workers.

Bus services which have been affected by the strike include Rea Vaya, the Gautrain, Putco and Megabus in Gauteng. In Cape Town, the MyCiti and Golden Arrow bus services are affected. In a statement SAFTU also said it is shocked, though not surprised, at the article in Business Report on 9 May last week, which quotes a construction industry employer, Gerald Ndlovu, saying that the proposed national minimum wage (NMW) is ‘too high for the construction industry’ and that employers ‘should be exempt from paying it’.

This remark confirms everything that SAFTU has said about the contemptuous attitude of many South African employers towards the workers they exploit. If they think that even the pitifully low proposed R20 an hour is ‘too high’, it means they want to continue paying wages that condemn their workers to even more abject poverty than those who will get the R20. Ndlovu is quoted as warning of ‘a looming crisis in the multibillion-rand sector if the proposed R20 an hour national minimum wage (NMW) is implemented’.

His comments help to explain why South Africa was ranked bottom of 137 countries in the Co-Operation in Labour-Employer Relations Index of the 2017/18 World Economic Forum Global Competitive Report. Labour unrest and prolonged protests in the economy were cited as reasons for this poor showing.

Even Ndlovu himself warns that ‘the contentious NMW might cause further unrest among the country’s workforce, with labour relations already at an all-time low’. Faced with an employer like him workers will not just be restless but up in arms when they hear that he thinks even R20 an hour is ‘too high’.

His attitude is particularly outrageous given that construction workers toil for long hours in all weathers, doing one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs. For that reason alone they should not just be paid the NMW but a lot more.

Their employers can certainly afford it. The construction industry was among sectors, which showed growth last year, contributing an average of 3.9% to the country’s gross domestic product.

It is an industry highly monopolised by the ‘big seven’ companies –Wilson Bayley Holmes-Ovcon (WBHO), Raubex, Murray & Roberts, Aveng, Group Five, Basil Read and Stefanutti Stocks. The only reason why their profits are not as high as they would otherwise have been is that 15 major construction firms are still paying off a fine of a collective R1.46-billion imposed by the Competition Commission for ‘rampant’ collusive tendering related to projects concluded between 2006 and 2011.

WBHO was fined R311.29-million for 11 projects, Murray & Roberts R309.05-million for 17 projects, Stefanutti Stocks R306.89-million for 21 projects, and Aveng, R306.57-million for 17 projects.

Yet in the financial year to June 2016 Murray & Roberts paid its CEO, Henry Laas, R14.7m, including R6.4m in bonuses, even as the construction group’s operating profit declined for the third year in a row, and executives failed fully to meet a number of targets to unlock short-term bonuses.

Peter Bennett, the group’s head of oil and gas, was paid even more – R17.6m, which is R1.47m a month and R8,380 an hour. His company says R20 is too high for its workers, when Bennett was earning that amount in 2.3 seconds! The statement by Ndlovu encapsulates everything that is wrong with not just the construction industry but South Africa as a whole.

It explains how we have become the world’s most unequal society, in which big, monopolised companies make huge profits from, quite literally, the sweat of their workers, who are paid a pittance for a job where they risk injury or even death every working day. SAFTU has also noted with dismay the trend well underway in our beloved country for white monopoly capital to increasingly use black faces to justify and maintain the status quo. The captains of industry, who remain largely white males, are hardly on the media these days for obvious reasons.

They have employed a strategy to hire black faces to justify the poverty of the black majority.

SAFTU will as a matter of principle not engage these hired black faces but will demand to talk to directly to the owners of capital. SAFTU is more determined than ever to campaign for a decent living minimum wage of R12 500 for all workers. Statement issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, 9 May 2018

Meanwhile, National Teachers Union (Natu) Deputy President, Allen Thompson, was ambushed and shot in in his vehicle near Umhlanga last Friday afternoon. In a statement Natu president, Siphosethu Ngcobo, said Thompson, who was travelling from his offices in Empangeni to Durban, was in his vehicle at the offramp intersection from the N2 Freeway to the M41 to Umhlanga, when he was ambushed.

Ngcobo said the heavily armed men had fired at Thompson through the window, narrowly missing his head and injuring him in the shoulder. ‘After being shot Mr Thompson never surrendered but continued to drive his car as assassins were still on his back chasing him with the intention to find and kill him,’ Ngcobo said.

Ngcobo said Thompson had been able to manoeuvre his car, at times into oncoming traffic and through red traffic lights, to get to the Netcare Umhlanga hospital. He said Thompson had parked at the front entrance of the hospital and had run inside to get help and evade the gunmen. ‘The unknown assailants, who wore balaclavas, went into the hospital, heavily armed to search for him and when they couldn’t find him they went back to his car that was parked at the hospital entrance,’ he said.

‘There was pandemonium as the heavily armed gunmen looted his car. They walked away with his documents, bag with undisclosed amount of money, two laptops and the bags that contained very critical information which is regarded as the master key to the imminent investigations regarding KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) department of education,’ Ncgobo said.

Police spokesperson, captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed the incident, saying Thompson had been pursued by occupants in a white BMW. ‘He was carrying a large sum of cash because he was apparently on his way to buy a car,’ she said. Gwala said Thompson’s assailants had been armed with pistols and rifles. She said police were investigating a case of robbery and attempted murder.

‘We also want to caution individuals not to travel with large amounts of cash, but rather to make use of alternative payment methods such as electronic fund transfers and internet banking,’ she said.

She said if a person felt they were being followed, she advised them to go straight to their nearest police station to seek help.

Ngcobo said it was clear that this was meant to be an assassination. ‘We have no doubt about that, hits of such calibre are usually very well planned and organised,’ he said. Ngcobo said the money that Thompson had taken was meant to be spent in Durban.

He said it was strange that the attackers had not taken Thompson’s wallet or car, as the keys were still in the ignition, but had made off with the laptops. ‘We are hurt and disappointed, but this will not deter the union to continue uncovering corruption in the education department,’ he said. ‘It is an open secret that we have been championing the call to place the KZN department of education under section 100, where the national department will take over the running of the provincial department.’ Ngcobo said the union would be looking at stepping up security measures. He said Thompson was recuperating.