NEWS | CAPE TOWN 

Union threatens to shut down Metrorail’s Northern Line

Dangerous working conditions a major concern for employees

Photo of a train
Members of the United National Transport Union have threatened to stop services on Metrorail’s Northern Line . Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

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Members of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) have threatened to stop services on Metrorail’s Northern Line following the robbery of a ticket control officer. The union previously shut down the Central Line following the fatal shooting of a security officer on 9 January.

On Sunday, a 35-year-old ticket controller and three of her colleagues, all UNTU members, were robbed by four armed men and a woman on a Northern Line train just before arriving at Somerset Station.

“It was terrible. I was petrified. They started complaining because they had to pay for their tickets,” she is quoted as saying in a press release from the union. “Suddenly, they had sharp objects. One of my colleagues was stabbed in the head and started bleeding. When he fell, some of them started to kick him while the others took off the money we had collected and my cell phone from me.”

Riana Scott, head of communication at Metrorail, responded: “Procedure is to report it immediately to Metrorail’s Protection Services department … and to share the information with the South African Police Services (SAPS) so that security resources can be deployed.”

Scott said Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) employees have access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) to assist in dealing with the aftermath of such trauma. “We encourage UNTU to follow procedure so that these issues can be appropriately addressed.”

UNTU General Secretary Steve Harris said that the incident had been reported to Metrorail’s Protection Services, SAPS and the EAP, but “no one is taking us seriously” he said. “SAPS have also said in the past that they do not have the resources to deal with the train lines.”

“We do not want to shut down the Northern Line as well; we know the inconvenience for commuters,” said Harris. “But if safety issues continue to be ignored, government needs to know that there will be consequences.”

Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee member for Transport and Urban Development in the City of Cape Town said: “The City is committed to working together with all of the role-players … to address the current crisis.”

The City will be hosting a rail summit on Friday. “The purpose of the summit is to devise interventions that can be implemented by one or more spheres of government, and the relevant state-owned enterprises with immediate effect to stabilise the service as soon as possible,” said Herron.

But Harris says the unions were not invited to the rail summit. “Organised labour are putting their lives at risk working on these railway lines,” he said. “It is of no use to agree on interventions without getting the input from those who are faced with the harsh reality of the situation daily.”

On Wednesday the United Democratic Front Veterans Network sent a letter about the PRASA situation to Cyril Ramaphosa. They urged Ramaphosa to use his influence as ANC president or as Deputy President of South Africa to replace the current PRASA interim board, insisting that the only way PRASA could recover is by the appointment of a permanent board of “credible, ethical and skilled” people.

The veterans also drew attention to the PRASALeaks documents on investigations into corruption at PRASA. The current interim board is attempting to kill off these investigations, they said.

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