Maputo — Over 200 workers of the Municipal Bus Company in the central Mozambican city of Beira (TMB) have gone on strike in protest against their low wages, according to a Tuesday report on the independent television station STV.
A representative of the workers, Januario Baloi, told reporters that when the company passed from the hands of the central state into those of Beira Municipal Council last year, the Council "ignored the wages we were already earning, claiming they were too high, and signed new contracts with us. We didn't receive any compensation and dozens of years of service were simply forgotten".
"We are demanding justice", he said. "Going on strike was the only way we found to make our claims on the municipality, bearing in mind that the Transport Ministry has already clearly stated that all our rights should be safeguarded".
Bu the situation is rather more complex than Baloi made out. In its earlier incarnation as a publicly owned company, known as TPB, it was simply a drain on the state budget. Prior to the central government handing it over to the Municipal Council, TPB was grossly overmanned with over 300 workers. They were paid much more than the wages in force in the public administration, in some cases over 100,000 meticais (about 1,660 US dollars) a month. But in its dying days there were sometimes only two TPB buses on the roads.
In late 2017, the government allocated a further 10 buses to Beira, but two of these were seriously damaged in traffic accidents, so that currently TMB has just 11 functioning buses, but still more than 200 workers.
At the time, the Municipal Council announced that it could not possibly continue paying the workers the old wages. It believed it had every right to pay new, and lower wages because TPB was being dissolved, and TMB was legally a completely new company.
The Beira Council director of transport, Alberto Meque, told STV that before the Council had taken over the company it informed the workers that their old wages were unsustainable, and so they would be paid less.
The Council also informed the Transport Ministry of this, and of its intention to sign new contracts with the workers.
"We signed new contracts with the workers", said Meque. "But when these same workers sent a letter to the Transport Ministry demanding that their rights be safeguarded, the Ministry gave them a favourable answer, and indicated that the responsibility would be ours. This contrasts with the note that the same Ministry sent to the Municipality, which agreed with us about the new contracts".
The Ministry had thus taken two different positions towards the same matter, and it was this that was creating "convulsions" in the company, said Meque.
Two weeks before the strike broke out, the Municipal Council requested a meeting with the Ministry, which would also involve the TMB workers - but Meque said it has not yet received a reply.
Over 14,000 people depend on TMB for transport. Meque said that "within days we shall take a decision making the operation of the buses viable" - but he refused to give reporters any hint as to what this solution would involve.