As the bus strike continued this week, the drivers have told their own stories of struggling to eke out a living on their meagre earnings.
Junior bus driver Andile joined thousands of underpaid bus drivers across the country as they stood together to demand a living wage.
Like many others in the industry, he works to look after his family, but the R2 100 he earns a week only goes so far.
His salary will only be increased after a year to R2 700 a week.
This is what convinced Andile to join the nation-wide strike. He said many people might not know that bus drivers are struggling to make ends meet.
He said although he enjoys his job, it is difficult just to keep the lights on with what he earns.
“It is the best job I ever had but it is not satisfying when it comes to the salary. You wake up the earliest, before everyone. At times you even get to sleep very late. We carry the country’s economy on our shoulders. The people that we transport are working to build the country’s economy but we are disregarded,” he told Vukani.
“The time we have on the road means less time we spend with our families. Bus drivers are undermined and that is why they are underpaid. We get killed on the job, we are robbed and get insults from the same passengers that we ferry. We deserve to be treated like human beings,” he said.
Buntu never thought he would have to do two jobs to survive. He is a bus driver that moonlights as a minibus taxi driver when he is off.
“I have to work for my children otherwise I would not live a great life. The money that I am getting will not take me anywhere. I made a decision that I needed another job. Thank goodness I got it,” he said.
Buntu is caring for many people including his extended family. He lashed out at their bosses who, he said, seem to care for their own selfish needs rather than that of workers.
“My job is one of those which are not cared about. One must see how the bosses are paid. Their salary is shocking compared to ours. It is criminals to pay yourself huge salaries while those who really slave away get peanuts. The strike should send a strong message to them that their workers sometimes go to sleep without a plate of food. The message should be sent to them that their slaves’ children could not afford better education”, he said.
He believe bus drivers’ salaries are among the worst in the country. He said if the employer does not pay them a better salary, the country should come to a stand still.
Buntu also joined the striking workers at the Golden Arrow bus terminus in the city centre.
Elias Mjikwa, chairperson of the passenger sector under the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), said workers were no longer demanding a 12% wage increase and had agreed on a 9.5 % increase for the first year and a 9% increase for the second. However, they had rejected an 8.5% increase for the first year and a 8% increase for the second as proposed by the mediator, which the employers were happy to sign. “All our other demands were also ignored. For example, for long distance drivers, we wanted the employer to pay for their accommodation and meal allowances. Right now, they are only getting a R400 a month allowance.
“The mediator didn’t accommodate us and requested that the other demands be dropped. We will gather at the terminus every day to discuss a way forward and picket at various points.”
South Africa Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) chairperson, Faizel Williams, said there is no way forward because no other meetings or negotiations had been planned following the deadlock on Friday. “We are waiting for government to intervene because the whole process has depleted, and we will stand by our demands.”
He said all MyCiTi and Golden Arrow bus services have come to a halt, however, there are still depots operating within the city. “We will picket at the depots and close them down because they will also benefit from the decision, and we are not getting paid.”
Zanele Sabela, spokeswoman for Satawu, called on all bus drivers who had not yet joined the strike to do so.”We are calling for them to intensify the strike,” she said.
She said the unions also wanted full-pay for back-up drivers. “The second driver, who is not at the wheel at the beginning of the journey is only entitled to a R400 allowance a month. Another concern is night shifts. Labour also wants workers to be compensated for sleeping-out and have demanded employers arrange and pay for decent accommodation so that drivers can rest adequately when they are away from home,” she said.