Bus strike paralyses Port Elizabeth

Company and municipality blame each other for late payment of workers

Photo of parked buses

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality and the bus company have blamed each other for late payment of bus workers who are on strike. Photo: Joseph Chirume

By Joseph Chirume

14 January 2020

A strike over wages by bus drivers in the Eastern Cape has paralysed the transport system in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

Libhongolethu Bus Services operates a fleet of buses in the northern areas of Port Elizabeth. The buses are owned by the municipality which has subcontracted Spectrum Alert, a private company, to run the routes.

The bus system was rolled out two years ago after the municipality bought out taxi drivers who were then employed by Spectrum Alert as drivers and conductors.

The bus workers embarked on a strike four weeks ago and on Monday employees who had not yet joined in the strike did so, paralysed the bus system.

About 300 workers — drivers, conductors and office cleaners — are taking part in the strike, not represented by any union. They blocked the bus company’s main entrance in Clearly Park with burning tyres.

The workers accuse Spectrum Alert of paying them late and deducting provident fund, unemployment insurance and other benefits from their wages but failing to send the money to the funds, a claim denied by the company.

They also say when the bus system was launched two years ago, the agreement was that all drivers and conductors would come from the taxi associations which gave up their licences. Now, they say, Spectrum Alert is employing drivers from other areas in the northern areas..

The workers said they were aggrieved when the company hired new drivers to replace the striking employees, and vowed that no buses would leave the depot.

Meanwhile, the municipality blames Spectrum Alert for causing discontent among workers leading to the strike. Mayoral spokesperson George Geleba said the company submitted its invoices to the municipality late.

“The delay in making payment to Spectrum Alert employees can be attributed to the fact that it fails to submit it’s invoices timeously to the municipality.” He said some invoices contained errors.

The workers had recently delivered a petition to the municipality with their demands but efforts by Mayco Member for Transport, Rosie Daaminds and officials to resolve the impasse had been unsuccessful, lsaid Geleba.

“Spectrum Alert leadership have not been able to attend any of the meetings called to facilitate the dispute,” he said.

But Spectrum Alert CEO Trevor Harper blamed the municipality for the late payment.

Harper said, “It is not true that we have been submitting invoices late. The municipality had a problem with their system in December after we had submitted our invoices. They also said they could not access the building where payment is processed due to small businesses who had barricaded it. We had three invoice payments that were affected as a result.

“It is also a lie that we are not submitting workers’ UIF and Provident Fund. If we were doing so the municipality would not manage to pay us because they need an organization with a clean tax clearance. “

Harper said he had met the workers on Monday and Tuesday. He said the company had a staff complement of 420, of whom only 60 were on strike.