Government has agreed to pay about R300 million in outstanding subsidies to bus operators in Gauteng by noon today.

This is in terms of an agreement reached yesterday between the Gauteng provincial government’s department of public transport, roads and works and the SA Bus Operators Association (Saboa) after the organisation turned — in an urgent bid – to the Pretoria High Court to enforce the payment of transport subsidies.

The matter was not heard as the parties agreed to come to an agreement regarding the November subsidy, in terms of which government agreed to pay the outstanding fees for November.

This only pertains to Gauteng and according to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) representative Jane Barrett, this is just to keep the wheels rolling for now.

In terms of the agreement, which was made an order of court, the provincial government’s transport department has until Wednesday to propose a solution relating to the payments for December, January, February and March. If no solution is found, the parties will be back in court next Wednesday.

Saboa’s executive manager Eric Cornelius, said the amount outstanding nationally is about R1.2 billion.

Yesterday Cornelius said it was a great pity that one needed a court order to force government to honour its contractual obligations.

The bus operators said they could only afford to pay their staff wages for the next two weeks because of the subsidies not being paid.

Barrett this week told Parliament that thousands of employees in the transport industry could lose their jobs if the subsidies weren’t paid. “If payment is not made within the next week, 26 000 bus workers are in danger of losing their jobs,” she said.

This could leave the country’s more than 1.5 million bus commuters stranded.

Provincial transport departments are said to have earlier told operators in the various provinces, that subsidies would not be paid from December to March — until Finance Minister Trevor Manuel outlined the new Budget in April.

Barrett said yesterday it would appear that a problem existed between National Treasury and the Department of Transport. She said if government did not find a political solution by Wednesday, it was up to the court to make a decision.

Barrett said if the court decided against them, the bus operators would definitely close their businesses. She said Satawu would keep up the fight.

“We simply cannot afford to have 1.5 million commuters stranded when the industry grinds to a halt,” said Barrett, adding that the worst affected were small operators.

She said the “knock-on effect is too horrendous to contemplate”.

Beauty Mabuka, the provincial chairman of the Gauteng Commuters Council said yesterday that government did not have the interest of commuters at heart.

Mabuka was happy that the subsidies for November were at least guaranteed.

However, Assaria Mataboge, of Satawu, was not happy. “It is just for a month. We don’t want our operators to live in fear (of non payment). We want full payment,” she said.

Meanwhile, Golden Arrow Bus Services in the Western Cape this week headed to the Cape High Court in a bid to force government to pay their subsidies.

Judgment is expected today.

Source: Pretoria News – Zelda Venter