By Tauhierah Salie
Metrorail commuters are to make alternative travelling arrangements on Friday due to strike action. Protesters are demanding that the state of railway transport in the country be declared a “national emergency.”
The strike is initiated by the Federation of Unions of SA (FEDUSA) and the United National Transport Union (UNTU), who have said that attempts to find solutions to persistent problems have been fruitless.
FEDUSA’s deputy-general secretary, Riefdah Ajam, spoke to VOC this week and highlighted that it is a desperate attempt to be heard.
Ajam noted that, given the butterfly effect a lack of operating trains will have, the Presidency may be forced to act.
“Ultimately, what we are calling for is a national day of protest and it is intended to force the president to declare the passenger rail service a crisis and a national disaster,” she said.
The strike action is expected to take place on Friday 26 July, in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The unions have cited issues such as safety concerns, unreliable train times and lack of accountability for damage. Other issues include the economic impact of arriving late for work or appointments as well as fatalities on railway lines.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) spokesperson Nani Zenani explained that contingency plans have been put in place.
“What we are looking at is introducing a service which will run either on the Saturday or Sunday timetable. It is a reduced service, with fewer trains, but nonetheless running.”
She clarified, however, that the effectiveness of trying to maintain operations is dependent on the number of staff available to run the train service.
“Because UNTU members will be joining in on the march, (only) some of our members will be at work. We need to see early tomorrow (Friday) morning how many critical staff will be available, in order for us to design the service to fit the needs of the people.”
She pointed out that PRASA is currently “stuck in the middle”, between the right of workers to strike and their mandate to provide an effective service.
“Trains will be very limited. As PRASA, we have to respect our employees right to go on mass action, either as sympathy members or as UNTU members joining FEDUSA. But, we also have the mandate to run trains in order to service commuters of the South African public.”
Nani noted that PRASA agrees with some of the unions’ demands.
“This is FEDUSA trying to approach the government in order to bring to light some of the issues that they have picked up. Some of (this) we agree with, in terms of rampant criminality against our system, against our employees and our commuters, the cable theft etc. They want the intervention of government in these areas and others which they mention.”
The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) had granted the UNTU’s umbrella union FEDUSA a Section 77 certificate to proceed with a strike last week.
“We have worked with UNTU before, they understand and have been clear. They’ve followed the rules in terms of applying and in getting the section 77 through FEDUSA.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced a number of projects expected to improve public transport.
Mbalula committed to initiating these changes within 100 days in office. Among these, is to have ten new trains on the Cape rail network.
He also committed to addressing other issues, including the instability of the Prasa Board, Cape Town’s MyCiti dispute and clashes around the Gauteng e-tolls.
“Our attention will focus on delivering a transport system that enables economic activity and stimulates growth by giving practical effect to our commitment to lowering the cost of doing business,” he said. VOC