| GAUTENG

Gautrain workers strike for 10% wage increase and other benefits

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Bombela offers 8.6%

Photo of striking workers
About 100 Gautrain workers protested outside the Gautrain Depot in Midrand after wage negotiations between the Gautrain’s operating company Bombela, and the Union broke down last week. Photo: Zoë Postman
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After a deadlock in wage negotiations between the operating company for the Gautrain, Bombela, and United National Transport Union (UNTU) last week, about 100 employees protested outside the Gautrain depot in Midrand on Monday morning.

The employees are demanding a 10% increase in their basic salaries and night shift allowance, R1,600 for housing allowance, R800 for transport allowance, 55% contribution towards medical aid and a R20,000 incentive bonus.

Bombela is offering an 8.6% increase and an increase in the minimum wage from R6,800 to R8,500 with no incentive bonus.

According to Sonja Carstens, Media Officer for UNTU, the union has been “negotiating blindly” because Bombela refuses to give it access to the company’s financial statements. “According to the Labour Relations Act any union is entitled to see that information even if we have to sign a confidentiality agreement but we are allowed to access it,” said Carstens.

Carstens said the union represents 90% of all Bombela’s Gautrain employees. She said that the current transport allowance is R24 per day. The earliest shift starts at 3am and the latest shift ends at about 11pm which makes it difficult for employees because public transport does not operate at those hours.

“The reality is that some of the employees earn so little that they are forced to sleep in a container, basically like a restroom at the depot, after they knock off until the morning so that they can travel during daylight when there is public transport available,” said Carstens. “But the next problem is that the next shift starts so early that they can’t go home because they don’t live close to the Gautrain.”

She said the housing allowance is currently R750 which means “they cannot afford to rent a room anywhere near the Gautrain route, let alone a flat”.

But Kesagee Nayager, Gautrain spokesperson, said 8.6% is a “generous offer” in the current economic climate, “especially when considering that annually, over the last five years, the company has granted increases in excess of 8%, which was significantly above inflation.”

“The fact that staff turnover at the company is low, is an indication that working conditions are conducive and that workers are content. To increase the company’s offer any further is neither responsible nor sustainable and we therefore call on UNTU to reconsider the offer, which remains open,” she said.

Strikers accused of blocking contingency plan

As a result of the strike, the Gautrain had a contingency plan which reduced its services. The service would only operate in peak hours between 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm passing through Centurion, Sandton and Park Station. No trains would operate outside of these hours. Buses would only service Centurion, Sandton and Park stations for the peak hours.

But according to a statement released by Gautrain on Monday afternoon, protesting employees prevented buses from leaving the depot which delayed the contingency plan. “Due to striking workers preventing buses departing from the depots, buses will not service Sandton station over the afternoon peak today and a very limited number of buses will service airport and Rhodesfield passengers”, read the statement.

But Carstens denied that employees prevented buses from operating. “We were informed that the buses won’t be travelling because they felt that they might be intimidated on the routes … So after [the employees] were informed that the buses won’t be traveling, a bus just came out and they were chanting and telling the one bus to go away. So the bus went back.”

Another statement released by Gautrain on Monday said “Whilst we respect our workers’ right to strike, striking workers must equally respect that their colleagues also have a right to work without intimidation. We will not condone intimidation or other criminal acts that result in damage to assets or that prevent workers from working.”

Gautrain said affected passengers with monthly or weekly train products will be refunded.

The strike will continue tomorrow.

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