Zupco Female Conductors Decry Tough Working Conditions

Prudence Moyo* dreamt of landing a high-flying office job after completing her university studies. After all, Moyo was one of the top students in her class and everyone believed she was destined for greatness. Life after college, however, proved tougher than she had envisaged as she struggled to find a job.

Eventually, Moyo stopped being choosy about jobs and joined the Zimbabwe Passenger Company (Zupco) in Bulawayo as a bus conductor. The perennially struggling Zupco was given a new lease of life by the government in 2019 when it started importing buses to replenish the public transport operator’s fleet.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government says it wants to re-establish the urban mass transport system. Following the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, the government moved to create a Zupco monopoly by banning privately-owned commuter omnibuses and conventional buses from urban routes.

This saw the publicly-owned bus company going on a massive recruitment exercise and Moyo became one of the beneficiaries after she was offered a job as a conductor. She told CITE that working as a conductor in a male-dominated industry has been very testing as she must contend with long working hours and being exposed to abuse.

“I never aspired to be a bus conductor after graduating from university,” Moyo said.

“However, due to lack of jobs in the country, I realised that I had no other choice when the chance to join Zupco came. At some point, I thought of starting a business to sell secondhand clothes, but I realised that everyone was now into that business. I also did not have the capital to start the business, so I decided to start off as a bus conductor.”

Her biggest challenge is the long working hours as she goes to work as early as 2 AM every day.

“I have to be up by midnight because the staff bus picks us up around 2 AM, but it does not have a fixed timetable, so one has to stay ready,” Ncube said.

“At the depot, we start work at 5 AM and the last trip is around 7 PM after which we go to the depot to hand over the money from ticket sales for the day and it’s a process that can go up to 9 PM.”

She added: “Under the circumstances, it is possible to be at work for 24 hours because the same bus that takes you home at midnight is the same bus that is supposed to bring you back to work.”

Moyo said some of the bus drivers drop them off at dangerous spots at night citing the poor road network and this exposed female conductors to crimes such as rape.

A 23-year-old female Zupco conductor from Emthunzini suburb in Bulawayo was gang-raped and robbed of her belongings while on her way to work around 2 am in March 2021. This matter was reported at Pumula police station.

Another female conductor said the long working hours deprived her of quality time with her children.

“When I leave for work the children would be asleep and when I return home most of the time, they are asleep,” she lamented.

“There is also a risk of being attacked on our way to the pickup points because it would be dark. Some of our colleagues have been raped while coming from work and it can be very traumatic.”

Moyo said they also have to put up with abuse from conductors and touts employed by pirate commuter omnibus who mock them.

“They call us “Abo Five O’Levels’ because Zupco only employs people that have five O’ Levels,” she said.” It can be very demeaning.”

The story is however different for Lizzy Dube* another conductor who was beaten by her male supervisor while on duty.

“Sometime last year on 13 July 2020, I fought with my supervisor as he did not want to release me to seek medical attention as I had reported before duty around 4 am that I was not feeling well,” said Dube.

“The procedure is that if you are not feeling well, you report for duty then go back home, so I followed the rules and regulations as expected. My supervisor then went on to say that I am not allowed to go as there was a shortage of conductors that day as some went to write their examinations, he said they were going to look for someone to take over during the day, so I obeyed that and went on duty.”

She narrated, “Around 11 am my illness got worse I couldn’t do anything anymore, I went back to report that my illness was intensifying, I couldn’t even issue out tickets, so I felt that I will end up making mistakes but they insisted that all they want is revenue and I could not go,” she said.

“When I inquired why my supervisor was concerned about revenue and not my health, he said, “Msikana uyu arikupretender kurwara, ukamuona achida kuenda early so akaba mari yecompany (She is feigning sickness because she wants to knock off early because she has stolen some money). I just kept quiet as I didn’t want to cause any havoc.”

“He started saying all derogatory remarks calling me a prostitute but the driver also tried to explain to him that I was sick and it was burdening him too as he was now expected to open the door for the passengers but the supervisor insisted that I continue working.

“The supervisor came on my side and slapped me saying I have a problem before I retaliated, I spotted the other senior supervisor, I approached him and narrated my issue to him but he also responded with ‘Vele usolo ngiyamazi uletemper’ (You know Solo has a bad temper),” narrated Dube. “As I was busy narrating further this Solo guy came back and beat me in front of the senior supervisor”.

“He further went on to write a report that I beat him up but, in all honesty, I was defending myself. I was suspended for four months and went to hearings but he went to the manager and told him that other conductors are no longer giving him respect and he got a promotion after two days he fought. ZUPCO covered up the whole issue and I lost my job,” she said.

Wilson Dube, Transport and General Workers Union deputy secretary general, said they were aware of Zupco female conductors’ grievances, but the bus company insisted that they were being well taken care of.

“We are aware of the issues,” Dube said. “All I can say is that Zupco said they have shifts for conductors. You might find out that some conductors go to work at different times, some go to work as early as 3 AM. They told us that they provide transport for their employees and they are picked up from their homes.”

He urged Zupco female employees that felt the pickup points were not safe to engage their employer in order to find a workable solution.

“I think it’s the employee’s right to complain to the authorities if the driver refuses to pick them up from their homes as agreed,” Dube said.

“We are also aware that at times when they hand in the money, they all come at the same time. You will find that at the depot there will be 20 conductors and the process is very long. It might be helpful for them to devise better strategies for the conductors to spend less time at work.”

Sikhanyisiwe Ncube, the Zupco marketing and public relations officer, said as far as they were concerned the buses picked up employees from their homes. Ncube, however, refused to comment on the other issues raised by the female conductors, saying she needed more time.

Efforts to get a comment from Zupco Chief Executive Officer, Everisto Madangwa to further get more clarifications on issues raised did not yield any results for a week.

Emthonjeni Women’s Forum (EWF) programs manager Melissa Ndlovu said they are lobbying for the amendment of the Labour Act to address harassment and sexual harassment within workplaces.

“Some of the issues that come in are the protection of all persons on their way to or away from work, safe reporting mechanism and also ensuring that those who report cases of harassment within the workspace, whistleblowers and those who report on behalf of the victims are not further harassed within the workspace,” said Ndlovu.

“It also speaks to the criminalization of sexual harassment where we are actually advocating for the Labour Act to ensure that it comes and comprehensively speaks to ensuring that harassment or sexual harassment of any form within the workspace becomes a criminal activity.”

She said in instances where women are harassed within the workspace, they are also advocating for the company to have a clear framework for addressing sexual harassment, “because sexual harassment is happening, then the company is able to deal with it but at law, the victim is able to report the case of harassment and ensure that the person is prosecuted.”

“We advise the person to come forward and ensure that if the harassment took place, they make an official police report that can be pursued and followed up,” said Mathambo.

*Not her real name

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology

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