8 March 2019
The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) Standing Committee has instructed the Department of Transport to bring unions to the table to fix the country’s “ruined” rail service.
The meeting came in the wake of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) announcing Nkosinathi Sishi as its sixth acting chief executive officer in the space of three years.
United National Transport Union (UNTU) raised the alarm, stating that “each new CEO usually brought a different turnaround plan and nothing gets implemented because they aren’t there long enough to see it through”.
On Thursday, UNTU addressed NEDLAC on PRASA’s inability to provide safe and reliable transport for hundreds of thousands of commuters who rely on the service daily.
This comes after a 49-year-old PRASA ticket controller at Mutual Station in Cape Town was stabbed twice, allegedly by a commuter who had refused to pay for a train ticket. (He is recovering in hospital.)
“Attacks like this are at the heart of UNTU’s plea,” Steve Harris, UNTU general secretary said in a statement.
“UNTU’s Section 77 application [to NEDLAC sought to force government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, to engage with the union to find solutions to the continuous attacks on UNTU members by commuters and criminals, and to ensure that PRASA is placed in a position where it can adhere to its core mandate: to provide safe and reliable passenger trains to the poorest of the poor,” he said.
Harris said that during the meeting on Thursday, the committee also asked the department to include organised labour in its Steering Committee overseeing whether PRASA is complying with an order made by the High Court in Gauteng.
The court instructed PRASA to comply with the safety requirements set out by the Railway Safety Regulator. This came after the regulator threatened to revoke PRASA’s safety permit in October 2018, which would have forced trains to stop operating. One of the requirements was that PRASA submits a report explaining how it planned to improve safety on trains.
Currently only the department, PRASA and the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) are on the Steering Committee.
“Government has to date allowed this state-owned enterprise to be ruined over the past five years to such an extent, that these attacks on innocent employees, vandalism, lack of maintenance, train delays and the derailment and collisions due to the failing infrastructure have become the norm,” Harris said.
PRASA and union representatives have been given a month to meet and compile a report for NEDLAC on any progress to finding solutions to the many issues plaguing the state-owned enterprise.