Cuenca bus battle: Bus drivers claim that companies have fired workers who want to unionize; they also complain about poor working conditions
Ecuador’s Ministry of Labor is investigating claims that Cuenca bus companies have fired drivers who were attempting to form a union. The drivers have complained for months about long working hours, low pay, and poor operating condition of buses.
José Trelles, president of the Cuenca Organization of Professional Drivers says that the firing of three drivers was the result of an attempt to unionize. Trelles and several drivers presented a letter to ministry officials containing information about the firings as well as details of what they say are poor working conditions.
Company owners say that there is “incorrect information” about the firings and that they will set the record straight when they discuss the situation with the ministry.
Diana Andrade, regional director of the Ministry of Labor, says that “lay-offs are not allowed” in cases where workers attempt to organize a workers’ union. “The laws protect the workers in this case,” she said. “If we find that the law has been violated, there will be penalties for the bus companies and compensation for the workers.”
Drivers have complained for months about having to work double-shifts and about deteriorating conditions of buses.
The owners say the working conditions will improve if the city allows an increase in bus fares. Currently, bus fare is 25 cent, a rate that was established 13 years ago. Owners want an increase to 42 cents. Without an increase, they say, they cannot afford to buy new buses and perform maintenance needed on the current fleet. Owners say that about 10% of all buses are out of service every day due to maintenance issues.
Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera agrees that fares need to increase and a study is underway to determine a new fare. A consideration that could delay the process is that the fare also needs to cover operating costs for the tram, currently under construction and scheduled to begin operations in late 2016. A study is in process to determine those costs.
In addition to investigating alleged firings, the labor ministry will host a series of meetings, August 3 to 13, to resolve work-related conflicts between drivers and bus owners.