This is why Metrorail employees are striking


Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) employees – or at least some of them – will hold a one-day strike on Friday.

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 in an environment where Metrorail security has broken down, GroundUp reported.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has granted UNTU’s umbrella union, Federation of Unions South Africa (Fedusa), a Section 77 certificate to proceed with the strike.

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

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 Metrorail security.

– Prasa needs to introduce a system to protect workers, such as trained security and enclosed yards, stations and railroads.

– Cable theft is also affecting workers. The breakdown in train services this has caused, has resulted in workers being late for work and consequently “unfairly” dismissed or unpaid.

– Prasa has to 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 of overall performance”.

– Prasa’s reporting lines to the government need to be reviewed.

– Regular meetings need to take place between Prasa and Fedusa.

– 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 was sympathetic to UNTU’s call for safe trains. But he said #UniteBehind did not support the call for the SANDF.

He said #UniteBehind members understood why people were 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 the Congress of SA Trade Unions, or the National Transport Movement, affiliated to the SA Federation of Trade Unions, are supporting the strike.

Nomawethu*, a Cape Town train driver, said she was concerned because UNTU was not the majority union and the strike might not be effective. She said 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 would ensure that contingency plans were in place so that the strike did not affect operations.

It is unclear what this means in the context of a service where trains are typically already an hour delayed during rush hour.

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