Workers’ woes

Commuters count the cost as the nationwide bus strike continues.

The nationwide strike has entered the third week as bus employers say they are still open to negotiations with unions. Workers are demanding a 9.5% wage hike as well as medical aid, night shift allowances and in-sourcing of workers, among others.

Their demand has dropped from the initial 12% while the employer has upped their offer from 7% to 8% for 2018 and 8.5% for 2019 if they drop all other demands.

While efforts to settle the deadlocked strike negotiations continues this week, public transport users were once again forced on Monday and yesterday to look for alternative transport to their places of work.

Early on Monday April 30, a Metrorail announcement was made to commuters at Steurhof station that there would be no trains. Irma van Heerden is one of these commuters.

She has worked as a packer at a factory in Ndabeni for 37 years and earns R4 900 a month. She has had her wages docked twice for turning up late for job.

She lived with her mother in a Diep River retirement home until a month ago. When her mother died she moved to an assisted living bedsit in Muizenberg because she could no longer afford the R3 000 per month levy.

She leaves home at 5.30am every day, pays R340 for a first class train ticket from Muizenberg to Salt River where she takes a second train to Ndabeni. She pays about R100 for electricity, spends R900 on food, R928 for DStv – her only pleasure – between R200 and R266 for her cellphone account and R130 for her clothing store account.

When she knows she will be late for work she calls the human resources personnel. Twice her wages have been docked by R500. “It’s not my fault. I told them, if they take money off again I will sue them. If I take a taxi and it crashes I must go to hospital. Who will pay,” said Ms Van Heerden who has no medical aid.

A security guard who has been working at a retirement centre for seven years said his R4 662 salary does not cover his expenses. Goodwill Mahupa is the breadwinner for his wife and two children, aged 7 and 9.

He said the cost of living is too high and he cannot come out on his salary.

Mr Mahupa lives in Capricorn Park and takes a taxi and then the train to get to his workplace in Diep River. He normally buys a monthly train ticket that costs about R150, third class, now when the trains do not arrive he has to take a taxi that costs R8 per trip one-way. This extra cost works out to about R336 per month, this on top of the R16 per day taxi from Capricorn Park to Muizenberg station. “We do not get paid enough money to cover our transport costs. While my situation is tough there are others whose pay is docked because they arrive late or cannot get to work,” said Mr Mahupa.

He works shifts from Sunday to Thursday and is paid R18.50 per hour. From his R4 662 salary his monthly costs are R500 rent and about R850 for groceries and R400 for electricity. The family has no medical aid and he does not have to pay school fees.

Nonceba Timoti lives in Nyanga and is also a security guard working in Diep River. She gets up at 4am every day and walks to the bus station to take a taxi to Wynberg station and then a train to Steurhof station, costing R40 return daily, about R600 per month. She starts work at 6am and leaves at 5.15pm and her take home pay is R4 700, extra if she works Sundays. “And while there are less people using the trains there are less trains,” she said.

She used to by a monthly ticket for the train but with the poor service she buys it weekly. “If the trains aren’t running and I have money I take a taxi to Wynberg station at R8 a trip, otherwise I walk.”

Ms Timoti said she stands for a long time at the stations not knowing if or when they will come. She does not leave work earlier because it is dangerous when there are less commuters around.

Mr Mahupa said when the trains are running it is so hectic. “They’re so full that it’s impossible to squeeze in and there are already people hanging out of the doors. So I wait for the next train, heart-pounding scared that there won’t be another train,” he said.

Mr Mahupa said he hardly ever sees a security guard and he has never seen an inspector.

Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim said many workers spend up to 50% of their salary on transport and while many employers make some provision and often provide their own means of transport, many workers are also facing negative disciplinary action, even dismissal, for missing work and late coming.

“There is a protocol which has to be followed by each employee when faced with this situation. It is incumbent on employers to consult with their staff to ascertain transport needs and the plans they’ve made to get to work daily,” said Mr Bagraim.

Many employers have a specific practice whereby employees would SMS or WhatsApp a message to their direct manager if they are running late. This message system is vital to ensure that not only management can structure itself properly in its planning for the day, but also to help the employee avoid warnings for lateness.

He said Metrorail is often affected by sabotage and rail commuters who travel to work must share their problems with their immediate managers. “It would be unfair of management to issue warnings if the employee had shared the problem with them and on the day had sent a message explaining their late coming was beyond their control. If a warning is still issued, an employee can take that on appeal internally or can refer an unfair labour practice dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA),” said Mr Bagraim.

On Tuesday May 1, Workers’ Day, the national minimum wage of R20 per hour was implemented. On February 16 President Cyril Ramaphosa said the introduction of a national minimum wage is expected to increase the earnings of more than six million working South Africans. Cabinet approved the National Minimum Wage Bill in November last year.