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Numsa accuses Putco of mistreating suspended workers

Azra Hoosen |
29 February 2024 | 14:00 CAT
4 min read

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has levelled accusations against bus operator Putco, alleging mistreatment of over 120 suspended workers, predominantly bus drivers, who participated in an illegal strike in 2022.

According to Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, the suspended workers have been compelled to attend disciplinary hearings at the company’s Soweto depot since their suspension. Hlubi-Majola contends that the workers are being treated like prisoners and denied access to basic amenities such as clean water and proper sanitation facilities.

Putco, however, has refuted all claims, stating that the alterations to the suspension terms were made due to various issues, including employees engaging in secondary employment and failing to attend disciplinary hearings. Putco spokesperson Lindokuhle Xulu emphasised that the decision to amend suspension conditions is within the company’s rights.

Hlubi-Majola explained to Radio Islam that the dispute between Numsa and Putco originated from an incident in September 2022 when workers went on an unprotected strike without following the proper process. Instead, they withdrew their labour arbitrarily, leading to the subsequent conflict between the union and the employer.

“During Covid-19, when Numsa signed an agreement in the bus passenger sector for a 60% increase, Putco applied for an exemption stating they couldn’t afford the 60% increase, but it was later found the exemptions committee had rejected their application twice due to the fact that Putco could afford increases based on a study on their financials. Putcos refusal is what sparked the unprotected strike in 2022. They also threatened to fire about 1000 workers. But Numsa stepped in and negotiated for most of them to be reinstated, the exception being about 120. Those workers have been undergoing a disciplinary process since November,” she said.

Hlubi-Majola emphasised that Putco’s treatment of workers, particularly those who are suspended, has been extremely poor throughout the disciplinary process. This mistreatment has led to the current dispute, with Numsa threatening to take the matter to the labour court due to the unfair treatment of these workers.

“The standard procedure is you only attend the disciplinary hearings when you are required; otherwise, you stay home. But one of the things workers complained about is that while on suspension, Putco has requested the workers to report to the depot warehouse, where they just sit the entire day. In that space, they aren’t allowed access to decent water and sanitation and are given dirty Jojo tank water. Initially, Putco allocated buckets as toilets for them. A number of workers who were sick and hospitalised were not paid, with Putco pretending not to know where they were.

Hlubi-Majola asserts that Putco’s actions amount to dehumanising the suspended workers. She claims that the company is punishing them for standing up against what they view as greedy management and advocating for their rightful wages.

“Putco stated that they want to keep an eye on them, almost like they are behaving like a jailer in a prison. One of the demands they have is that if we don’t wrap up the case by the 5th of April, they will stop paying their salaries. We have a problem with this. Putco’s proposal that they implemented is what we are following, and it is taking longer than it could have. They are basically asking us to sabotage the case to make it easier for these workers to be dismissed. Workers are human beings, and Putco needs to recognise that. If it costs them money, tough luck. This long process results from their lies and greedy management’s refusal to pay what they could actually afford to pay,” she explained.

The dispute between Numsa and Putco has escalated, with Numsa accusing Putco of conducting a smear campaign against it and engaging in public theatrics instead of exploring grievance resolution processes.

Hlubi-Majola stated that Numsa has issued a letter of demand to Putco, urging the company to provide a written commitment to meet their demands by the end of the week. Failure to do so would leave Numsa with no alternative but to seek urgent intervention from the labour court to enforce the rights of its members in this situation.

Hlubi-Majola reiterated the possibility of a looming nationwide bus strike, unrelated to the issues with Putco, due to deadlock in negotiations. Numsa is awaiting confirmation from the CCMA, but a strike is anticipated by the end of March if a resolution is not reached.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml Junaid Kharsany and Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, here.


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