Some Metrorail workers will go on strike on Friday. This is why

Some Metrorail workers will go on strike on Friday to highlight their concerns about safety.
Some Metrorail workers will go on strike on Friday to highlight their concerns about safety.
Image: Gallo Images/Rapport/Roger Sedres

Passenger Rail Agency (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.

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 at the end of May, 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”.

Chief 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 causes  has resulted in workers being late for work and consequently being “unfairly” dismissed or going 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 overall performance”;
  • Prasa’s reporting lines to government need to be reviewed;
  • Regular meetings need to take place between Prasa and Fedusa; and
  • 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 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 #UniteBehind 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.

A Cape Town train driver, who asked not to be named, said she was concerned because Untu was not the majority union, 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.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said the organisation will ensure that contingency plans are in place so that the strike does not affect operations. What this means in the context of a service where trains are typically already an hour delayed during rush hour is unclear.

- Originally published on GroundUp.

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