Striking bus driver explains exhausting shift system

“We’re only going home to eat and then work again”

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Bus drivers are on strike to demand better wages and working conditions. Photo: AshrafHendricks

Zweli Mugengo is R50,000 in debt. He has loans out on his home, his children’s schooling, and a car. Mugengo has been a Golden Arrow bus driver in the Western Cape for the past ten years and currently receives a monthly salary of R11,000 on which he must support a family of six.

He said that the most important issues he wants the current bus strike to resolve are his wage and the length of breaks during shifts for drivers.

“Our wages need to be improved,” Mugengo said. “After paying bills, we don’t have anything left.” He spends his salary on school fees, water, food, and clothing for his children, among other expenses. “There are a lot of us [drivers] who are the only person working in our families,” he said.

Mugengo said he may drive up to 130 kilometres in one day, but because he has been at the bus company longer than other drivers, he has more reasonable hours. “I start at 6am and go home at 12pm to eat and rest,” he said. “Then I start again at about 4pm and finish at 7pm.”

However, others are not as lucky as Mugengo. “Some of us start very early in the morning at 4am and finish at about 1 or 2pm and then come back for another shift at 8, 9, or 10pm,” he said. “We’re only going home to eat and then work again.”

Some drivers may finish a shift at 10pm and have to go back to work at 1 or 2am. “They don’t have enough time to rest,” said Mugengo.

The Golden Arrow employee said that drivers get a break every four or five hours for a maximum of thirty minutes. That means a driver may be working a ten hour shift with two breaks of thirty minutes each, not allowing drivers proper time to eat and rest. “It can be improved by giving one hour,” he said.

For Mugengo, working at Golden Arrow has had many positive aspects, but he believes there is a lot that must be improved before their drivers can truly lead good lives.

Strike Update

Following the onset of the strike, the Bargaining Council requested to meet with union members to discuss demands. According to a National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) statement, employers proposed “a 9% across the board wage increase, overtime pay for drivers, but only after they have worked a 16 hour shift, an increase of the night shift allowance by 10%, and an increase of 10% for cross border allowance.” NUMSA and other unions rejected the proposal.

TOPICS:  Labour

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