The United National Transport Union (UNTU) is planning a one-day strike on Friday for The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) employees.
UNTU will hold marches in several cities “to fix our trains”.
The organisation has several concerns, mostly relating to the safety of employees in an environment where Metrorail security has broken down.
The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) has granted UNTU’s umbrella union FEDUSA a Section 77 certificate to proceed with the strike.
In a statement, UNTU said that 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 has also called for the SANDF to be deployed to “safeguard platforms for commuters”.
Matthew Hirsch of commuter activist group #UniteBehind said that 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 the group’s 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.
Nomawethu* a Cape Town train driver 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.
FEDUSA and UNTU’s concerns are:
- Employees have the right to a safe working environment but PRASA employees’ lives are in danger. Employees have been murdered and injured because of a lack of security on Metrorail.
- PRASA needs to introduce a system to protect workers such as trained security and enclosing yards, stations and railroads.
- Cable theft is also affecting workers. The breakdown in train services this caused has resulted in workers being late for work and consequently being “unfairly” dismissed or going unpaid.
- PRASA must be “transparent about its challenges” in its dealings with the Railway Safety Regulator.
- PRASA needs more manpower. Senior positions need to be filled to ensure “accountability and quality overall performance”.
- PRASA’s reporting lines to government need to be reviewed.
- Regular meetings need to take place between PRASA and FEDUSA.
- Court decisions on railway safety need to be implemented.
PRASA spokesperson Nana Zenani said the organisation will ensure that contingency plans are in place so that the strike does not affect operations.