S.Africa taxi union to strike over transport system | Top News

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's taxi union said on Wednesday it would go on strike in protest at a new public transport system for the 2010 World Cup, the latest in a wave of industrial action in Africa's biggest economy.

Minibus taxis pick up passengers in Cape Town, August 15, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The South African National Taxi Drivers Council (SANTACO) said it would stage a nationwide strike after failing to agree with government on how the new bus service would work.

"There will be mass action between (Aug) 27 and (Sept) 3, and it might even be extended beyond that," SANTACO spokesman Vernon Billet said.

"What brought this about is the fact that the City of Johannesburg informed the world that the BRT (bus rapid transport system) will be rolled out on September 1. It caught us by surprise because we thought we were on the same boat in negotiating with government."

South Africa is investing 170 billion rand in transport for visitors during the soccer tournament, including an integrated ticketing system in several types of transport, including rail, buses and mini-bus taxi services.

South Africa's minibus taxi drivers are opposed to the new mass bus service, which will start trial services next month. They have staged sometimes violent protests, fearing they will lose business.

"I don't think the government has been able to convince the taxi drivers that this system will be to their benefit. In terms of black labour in South Africa it could cause huge disruptions," Executive Research Associates analyst Nel Marais said.

Under a proposed plan, some of the taxi drivers will be driving the new buses.

Tens of thousands of black South Africans rely on minibus taxis to get to work and any strike by drivers is likely to strand commuters.

"The economic disruption will be huge, and the taxi drivers will be able to get the point across. But the government cannot stand down on this, because they have committed too much in terms of the BRT," said Marais.

A series of strikes and strike threats in the past few weeks has led to several above-inflation settlements in South Africa, including agreements in the gold and coal industries, and raised investor concerns about rising union clout.

The unions helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power and want him to spend more on the poor, a policy that could be economically risky during a recession. Zuma has said there will be no "pandering" to labour.

Billet said the union and its associates would continue to strike until government agreed to suspend the implementation of the mass bus service in Johannesburg.

"The only thing we will accept is for the mayor of Johannesburg to withdraw what he said about the BRT and postpone the roll-out indefinitely until we have a chance to talk about it and we can understand what this BRT is," Billet said.