Headwinds destroy local bus sector
By Siphelele Dludla 4m ago
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JOHANNESBURG – THE SHOCK of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated travel restrictions reverberated through the passenger bus sector this week after two big bus companies announced closure and retrenchments, respectively.
Intercity luxury bus coaches Greyhound and Citiliner on Wednesday unexpectedly announced that they would cease operations from February 14 due to challenging trading conditions.
Greyhound owners Unitrans, however, have since acceded to workers’ unions request to halt plans to close its operations, which could put at least 700 jobs on the line.
Unitrans, a subsidiary of Jselisted KAP Industrial Holdings, will now apply for the facilitation of Section 189 at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union general secretary Vusi Ntshangase said the union was only notified on Monday of Greyhound’s closure.
Ntshangase said they were questioning why the company did not opt to go into business rescue when it found itself in financial dire straits. “Doing so would have afforded it a real chance to pivot the business, save hundreds of jobs and even sell it as a going concern.”
Unitrans officials have not been available for comment nor issued any detailed statement since the announcement.
National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim said Unitrans had from the onset undermined the transcripts of the Labour Relations Act that impose a mandatory 60-day time period for planned retrenchments consultation.
Jim said Numsa was weighing its options and did not rule out the possibility of approaching the labour court to interdict the entire process.
“It would be a serious blow to workers and their families should Unitrans close down," Jim said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in declining passenger numbers and loss of revenue for bus companies as they had to scale-down their operations to comply with the regulations.
The Public Utility Transport Corporation (Putco) followed suit on Thursday and announced that it would retrench 214 workers due to financial distress.
Putco said it only transported essential workers while private hire and commercial contracts could not be entered into due to regulations.
The company, which employs more than 3 600 workers, has a fleet of 1 400 buses and transports more than 210 000 passengers daily in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Putco said revenue per trip was reduced significantly due to the reduction in the number of passengers allowed on a bus, which resulted in trips operating at a loss.
Putco managing director Franco Pisapia said they had been engaging with the two spheres of government since March 2020 to request financial relief, but the Department of Transport had remained mum amid the bus companies' pleas.