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Unions demand government reconsider 100% taxi loading capacity

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The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) and Cosatu have both publicly slammed the decision and labelled it as “reckless”.

File image. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Durban – Labour unions have demanded that the government reconsider its decision to allow the taxi industry to operate with 100% loading capacity.

The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) and Cosatu have both publicly slammed the decision and labelled it as “reckless”.

The regulation was amended last week, following an announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.

The decision came after taxi councils rejected a Covid-19 relief package offer of R1.1billion and embarked on a strike, stating that the relief funds were insufficient.

The new regulations state that buses and taxis may carry 100% of their licensed capacity for any trip not regarded as long-distance travel. For long-distance travel, the capacity is 70%.

Cosatu has now threatened to call for a national workers’ strike if the government does not reverse its decision to allow taxis to carry full loads.

Speaking to The Mercury on Sunday, Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal secretary Edwin Mkhize said it was not fighting against the taxi industry, but its focus was on the rights and safety of workers. Mkhize said that the government and the taxi industry needed to reconsider the matter.

“The question that we are asking is what is the point of a worker using a taxi that is loading 100% to travel to work and, when they get to work, there must be social distancing? There was no social distancing in a taxi and they will also take the taxi back home to their families. There is no logic,” he said.

He said the taxi industry must view workers as clients who were supporting the industry to ensure its survival.

Mkhize said that the government should have already resolved the issues they had with the taxi industry years ago.

“Some of the bus companies are subsidised, but on the issue of taxis, there is no proper way to ensure that the taxi industry, as a business, has dignity, support and is protected. When it comes to workers, all of us have a role to play. Before we go on a strike, we need to engage with all parties involved in this and we are hoping there will be fruitful outcomes,” he said.

Hospersa, representing more than 60 000 members in both the public and private health sector, said the 100% loading capacity decision contradicted many of the other regulations in place and had the potential to collapse a health sector that was already under pressure.

The union said the decision was reckless and could jeopardise the country’s fight against Covid-19.

Hospersa general secretary Noel Desfontaines said the decision would increase the risk of transmission among the many health workers who used public transport to commute to work.

“The 100% taxi loading capacity contradicts the notion of social distancing. It makes no sense to have commuters observe social distancing at work yet they are expected to sit close (together) in a minibus taxi. We call on the government to reverse this decision and re-negotiate with taxi operators, especially as the country moves to the Covid-19 peak period,” said Desfontaines.

The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) said the threat made by Cosatu to embark on a strike was unfortunate and disingenuous.

It said that the battle they had with the government was for the preservation of jobs of the many semi-skilled workers in the industry.

The council said that the decision to load to full capacity was taken after several discussions between the government and the council.

“We therefore want to assure South Africa that contrary to popular belief, the government did not succumb to the taxi industry’s demand,” said Santaco.

Last week, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula defended the 100% loading capacity for taxis and said the industry would not survive if it had to limit the number of passengers per trip.

The Mercury