About 320 Gautrain bus drivers were fired this week in the climax to an intermittent strike that started on January 9, and centred on transport allowances, according to the lawyer representing the drivers.
Kevin van Huyssteen said the drivers, who work for bus management company Mega Express, were fired after a dispute over their demand for transport to and from work.
He said the drivers insisted they had not gone on strike but had been unable to turn up for work in the absence of transport — given that their shift started at 3.30am and ended at 10.30pm. He alleged that drivers were not given meals, tea breaks or intervals and were also not paid overtime.
Kelebogile Machaka, spokesperson for Bombela Concession Company, said that new drivers were being trained to replace the dismissed workers. Of the 23 routes only five — four from Sandton station and one from Rosebank station — were operational.
Machaka said the strike had stranded 12 000 passengers a day. They could not use the train because they relied on the Gautrain feeder bus network to carry them either to or from the stations. The disruption had resulted in a 10% drop in passengers.
The bus drivers worked on a shift basis, which meant one person did not work from 3:30am to 10pm, Machaka said. “Their main demand has been the provision of transport between work and home by their company, Mega Express.
“Their conditions of service comply with the recommendations agreed to at the sector’s bargaining council in 2011. At present the drivers are not affiliated to any union,” she said.
The strike was the latest in a string of woes to have hit the high-speed train service between Johannesburg and Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport. Cable theft, water leakages and problems with the electricity supply to the locomotives have also led to temporary disruptions of the service.
This week irate commuters complained on Facebook and to the Mail & Guardian that they had purchased monthly and weekly tickets, but because of the strike had been forced to cough up extra for other forms of public transport. Some commuters said that the company was unwilling to refund or extend their tickets.
A Centurion IT consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, said he used the train from Centurion to Midrand every day and relied on the bus service to take him to Sunninghill. “I had to pay more than R1 500 for a 35-day pass, which includes the train ride,” he said.
“My card will expire soon and I still have money in it but won’t be able to use it. I’ve phoned and emailed Gautrain asking for a refund, but they were not willing.”
Lucas Senatore wrote on the Gautrain Facebook page: “I am completely astonished with the fact that you refuse to refund people who are not able to use the Gautrain because of the bus strike. My girlfriend takes the train from Rosebank to Hatfield and then to the CSIR by bus. Are you telling me that you will not refund the R1 000+ 35-day pass?”
Machaka confirmed that passengers had contacted the company for guidance on refund procedures. She said management was working on a plan “that will be fair and equitable for customers affected”.
* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.