Bus drivers disrupt services over Covid-19 fears

Police disperse protesting Golden Arrow employees

Photo of a man and a sign for Golden Arrow
“We are all scared, but we need to make sure that we are spreading facts and not misinformation. I think they are very scared and are acting on emotion at the moment,” Golden Arrow spokesperson says about the protest. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

About 100 Golden Arrow Bus Services employees, most of them bus drivers, in full uniform and wearing masks, picketed at the Arrowgate bus depot in Montana, Cape Town, on Thursday. The drivers accuse Golden Arrow of having minimal safety measures in place to keep them safe from Covid-19.

Golden Arrow has approximately 2,900 employees. At the beginning of lockdown there were 12 confirmed Covid-19 infections at the company’s Central Engineering Complex; one has died. In the last two weeks, there have been five separate cases of which two are drivers from different depots. They were quarantined, and their traced contacts told to self-isolate.

The staff member who died was an administrator. “This has devastated all of us and she will be remembered for being an incredible light at Golden Arrow,” said Bronwen Dyke-Beyer. “This has been one of the most difficult times in our 159 year history and safety is always prioritised. At the same time we cannot simply stop operating as we have contractual obligations and an obligation to those essential services workers who rely on our services.”

The protesting employees say no screening or testing was made available to them after their colleagues tested positive.

One of the drivers, designated as spokesperson but who asked to stay anonymous for fear of victimisation, told GroundUp: “Every couple of days new cases of Covid-19 are found in different bus depots, but the company constantly fails in closing, screening and cleaning the depots and then reopening after a few days as per the regulations.

“Secondly, there are fears among employees that they might have come into contact with those that have already tested positive for the virus. The fear is that when we go back home from work, back to our families, we’re likely to spread this virus.”

The drivers said their unions – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and South African Transport and Allied Workers Union – had been back and forth with management but nothing has changed.

“Management says they are following and taking the necessary safety measures, but what they have done is not enough. We want management to organise us someone from the health department to come and speak to us and explain properly and exactly what the symptoms of the virus are, the dangers, and what a person can do to prevent getting the virus,” said the driver.

In a press statement issued by Golden Arrow general manager Derick Meyer on Thursday morning, the company said services operating from Arrowgate depot had been disrupted “by a group of drivers who will not allow buses to depart as a result of rumours and misinformation”.

“Golden Arrow follows very strict and rigorous health and safety protocols and is guided by government’s protocols and our own risk assessment strategy. Masks are compulsory for all staff and regular hand washing and sanitisation as well as strict social distancing is enforced. Depots are sanitised every two hours. By observing these protocols there is no need for panic should a staff member be diagnosed with Covid-19. We are consulting with labour representatives and hope to have this issue resolved as soon as possible,” Meyer said in the statement.

But the driver told GroundUp: “Just to clarify, we are all willing to go back to work. All we want is proper education, transparency, screening and testing from the company. From here we will move to the Philippi bus depot where we will meet more of our colleagues who share the same concerns.”

Golden Arrow spokesperson Bronwen Dyke-Beyer said the situation was “unfortunate” and the bus service was hoping that the issues concerning the employees would be solved “promptly”.

“Unfortunately the people that were at Arrowgate went to Philippi Southgate. Public order policing came in and had to disperse them. We are hoping to get some services going now that the crowd has been dispersed.

“We are doing our very best. We had a three hour meeting with the unions yesterday and we are open to discuss anything and we want to be transparent. We want to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Dyke-Beyer.

“People are scared, which is understandable. We are all scared, but we need to make sure that we are spreading facts and not misinformation. I think they are very scared and are acting on emotion at the moment. But hopefully we’ve got people talking to them from their unions, but at this point we can’t really tell what’s going to happen”.

Arrowgate and Southgate depots service areas such as Mitchells Plain, Strandfontein, Delft, Blue Downs, Somerset West and some areas of Khayelitsha.

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Transport

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