Numsa to approach Labour Court over suspended Putco employees

NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim.pICTURE: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim.pICTURE: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 28, 2024


The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has announced its intention to implore the Labour Court for a solution to the impasse between the union and Putco bus operator.

Roughly 120 members affiliated to Numsa, and employed by transporter, Putco, were suspended following an unprotected strike in 2022 over a wage dispute.

According to reports, workers were subjected to undignified conditions, including a lack of access to decent toilets at the company’s depots.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said the union had met Putco management on Tuesday in an attempt to end the dispute, however, they were unable to find one another.

According to Jim, the main reason the talks collapsed between the two stakeholders was due to the bus operator attempting to dictate how the union operated and handled the matter with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Putco was demanding that arbitration hearings conducted with the CCMA be concluded by April 5, he said, failing which workers would not be paid their salaries while on suspension.

This, however, could not be accepted by the union, Jim said, adding that it had become clear that the bus management was attempting to sabotage the union’s efforts in handling the livelihoods of 120 workers.

“If we were to adhere to this, dozens of workers would lose their jobs, because we would have failed to defend them adequately. It is unfair of Putco to make this demand.”

The general secretary explained they had in 2022 already proposed to defend workers in groups, according to the charges faced. However, this was rejected by Putco management, even though this would have effectively afforded them less time during hearings.

“They demanded that workers make submissions individually, thus creating this situation and now they want workers to suffer.

“We reject their attempts to deny workers their right to due process and a fair disciplinary hearing.

“We will not be bullied into submission by lawyers. Putco is threatening to take us to court to force us to reduce the number of witnesses in the disciplinary hearing but we are ready to defend our members and their right to a fair trial,” Jim said.

The union’s demands include that workers who are currently on suspension for the 2022 unprotected strike, to not be compelled to report to the bus operator’s depot; and for the 14 workers dismissed for taking sick leave, to be immediately reinstated.

In addition, the union warned the operator from breaching the terms of the Amended Settlement Agreement signed on October 6, 2022, where they agreed to pay workers their remuneration during the period of suspension.

Lindokuhle Xulu, Putco spokesperson, dismissed accusations of management mistreating employees, saying bus management faced workers who were repeatedly absent from hearings.

Xulu said the company had even gone as far as amending the conditions to require suspended workers to report and remain at the Putco premises during their working hours without rendering any duties.

As a result of this, he said, some workers had opted to resign, while others absconded or were eventually dismissed, especially given how fraudulent sick notes were also discovered by Putco, prompting it to introduce measures for verification.

During follow-up meetings between the two parties, however, Xulu said the union had demanded that medical notes not be verified and the reinstatement of all suspended workers.

“The suspensions were due to gross misconduct by the employees and the company could not reinstate or uplift the suspension without following due processes currently under way.”

Xulu added: “Both parties had agreed the process of hearings would be undertaken expeditiously. However, Putco is of the view that Numsa’s suggestion that the hearings be concluded by November 2024, is unreasonable.

“This would be more than two years since the process started and would go against the union’s commitment in the Section 150 agreement to finalise the matter speedily.”

Putco believed that two months calculated to 480 hours was sufficient time to finalise proceedings, but said it welcomed any bid to approach the courts on the matter.

The Star