South Africa


Metrorail workers to strike for security

Masibulele Rautini, a gardener at Spier Wine Estate, was 27 years old when he was attacked on a train between two stations in Stellenbosch in November 2011. Illustrative image: Brent Meersman
By GroundUp
22 Jul 2019 0

Railway employees will hold a one-day strike on Friday 26 July. The United National Transport Union (UNTU) will hold marches in several cities ‘to fix our trains’. The organisation has several concerns, mostly relating to the safety of employees. By Tariro Washinyira and GroundUp Staff.

First published by GroundUp

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has granted the United National Transport Union UNTU’s umbrella union Fedusa a Section 77 certificate to proceed with a strike on Friday 26 July.

In a statement at the end of May, UNTU said Nedlac had to grant the union permission to strike because negotiations for improved safety of railway employees had “reached the end of the road”.

Fedusa and UNTU’s concerns are:

  1. Employees have the right to a safe working environment but Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) employees’ lives are in danger. Employees have been murdered and injured because of a lack of security on Metrorail.
  2. Prasa needs to introduce a system to protect workers, such as deploying trained security and enclosing yards, stations and railroads.
  3. The breakdown in train services caused by cable theft has resulted in workers being late for work and consequently being “unfairly” dismissed or going unpaid.
  4. Prasa has to be “transparent about its challenges” in its dealings with the Railway Safety Regulator.
  5. Prasa needs more manpower. Senior positions need to be filled to ensure “accountability and quality overall performance”.
  6. Prasa’s reporting lines to government need to be reviewed.
  7. Regular meetings need to take place between Prasa and Fedusa.
  8. Court decisions on railway safety need to be implemented.

Fedusa has also called for the SANDF to be deployed to “safeguard platforms for commuters”.

Matthew Hirsch of commuter activist group #UniteBehind said the organisation is sympathetic to UNTU’s call for safe trains. But he said #UniteBehind does not support the call for the SANDF to be deployed on Metrorail. He said #UniteBehind members understand why people are desperate enough to call for the army but “we don’t believe this is a long term solution and it could have serious implications”.

Neither the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, which is affiliated to Cosatu, or the National Transport Movement, affiliated to Saftu, are supporting the strike.

A Cape Town train driver, who did not want to be named, said she was concerned because UNTU is not the majority union and so the strike may not be effective. She said that the number of people who participate in strikes has dropped because workers have lost faith in unions.

Unions have deviated from their mandates, they don’t take our grievances seriously,” she said.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said the organisation will ensure that contingency plans are in place so that the strike does not affect operations. What this means in the context of a service where trains are typically already delayed by an hour during rush hour is unclear. DM