Durban – Unitrans Passenger, which owns Greyhound and Citiliner Coaches, has been accused by labour unions of breaching labour laws in the hasty announcement to shut down operations, rendering hundreds of their members jobless.
The unions have undertaken to take the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where they will present their argument that they were kept in the dark ahead of the shutdown announcement.
Unitrans allegedly took the decision unanimously and even rejected unions’ offer to assist it in finding a solution that would keep the buses on the road.
Greyhound coaches have been in operation in South Africa for 37 years and Citiliner started operating in 2005. The closure of the two bus companies, which was effected on February 15, has left 693 people jobless.
Unitrans Passenger is a subsidiary of KAP Industrial, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Unitrans Passenger operations executive Jasen Smallbone had refused to respond to finance-related questions, saying KAP was in a closed period.
“Close period means the results have been put together and would be announced on February 20 for the group, and therefore I cannot disclose financial information that could have an impact, and that could give people information regarding the share,” said Smallbone.
When pressed to respond to the union’s allegations, Smallbone said there was a legal process with the unions.
“We have submitted all relevant documentation for the consultation process to the CCMA.”
The five unions – the National Union of Metal Workers of SA (Numsa); SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu); Togetherness Amalgamated Workers Union of SA (Tawusa); Transport and Omnibus Workers Union (Towu); and Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union (Detawu) – held their first meeting with Unitrans on February 15.
The CCMA has appointed two commissioners to oversee the negotiations which would continue on Wednesday.
Numsa’s sectoral co-ordinator Mdu Nkosi said that the meeting was too late because the company had already made its final decision. He said that shortly before the meeting Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim had called Unitrans’ human resource director suggesting that the company and unions should jointly seek the government’s intervention instead of an “arbitrarily decision”.
Nkosi said the unions wanted the company to make use of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, which the government had made available to rescue financially struggling businesses.
“He (human resources director) said ‘look the decision has been taken’.”
The unions are demanding to see the company’s audited financial statement “so that we can see what has been their spending patterns and they promised to come back to us with that”.
Numsa is rejecting the excuse that the company has over the past few years been experiencing revenue loss, which was worsened by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Nkosi alleged that the company had gone through massive capital expenditure where they bought new buses.
“I think that because they have injected cash into the business, they just expected quick returns, which did not happen because of Covid-19.”
The unions are pinning their hopes on a meeting to be held on Wednesday that they will be given access to the financial documents indicating the company’s performance over the past five years.
“If not we are going to declare a dispute with them,” said Nkosi.
Unitrans Passenger is not down and out, as its other bus fleets, Mega Bus, Mega Xpress, Bojanana Bus, Bato Transport still operate.
Unitrans also owns Gautrain buses whose 15-year contract started to operate at the inception of Gautrain in 2010.
The unions also accused Unitrans Passenger of having only informed them on February 2 about the matter instead of giving them a 60-day period for consultation, which is prescribed and mandated by the Labour Relations Act.
“Numsa is weighing its options and does not rule out the possibility of approaching the Labour Court,” said the union.
Satawu deputy general secretary Anele Kiet is adamant that the employees of Greyhound and Citiliner should continue to receive their salaries until the finalisation of the entire consultation process.
Kiet said Satawu was not concerned about the delay in the finalisation of the process “as long as the workers are continuing to earn their salaries”.
He said that in terms of their understanding of the law, the process had not started, so the workers were still employees. Whether the employer operated or not they were still responsible for those workers.