The United National Transport Union (UNTU), an affiliate of The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) in the passenger rail industry, has demanded that Richard Walker, the Western Cape regional manager of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) should resign immediately. FEDUSA fully supports UNTU’s call for the resignation of Walker as it believes that his incompetence is costing the South African taxpayer billions of rands in wasteful and fruitless expenditure.
“Last night furious commuters torched train once again after they had to wait for more than four hours in freezing cold and rain just to get a ride home. Trains on the platform at Cape Town Station had been stranded from about 14:00 yesterday afternoon after Metrorail, the commuter passenger rail division of Prasa had experienced electrical power feeds difficulties. Four feeds were unavailable and the remaining two feeds were overloaded. This resulted in the electricity tripping and halting trains all over the network,” said UNTU General Secretary Steve Harris.
“Metrorail did not warn commuters about the problem for hours. Commuters got agitated as the queues grew longer with rush hour approaching and Metrorail announced that the trains were delayed with between 2 to 3 hours. Some of them went on a rampage attacking Prasa staff and damaging Prasa’s property”.
Harris said some of the commuters even went as far as looking for train drivers and ticket control officers in the rest rooms. He said in the past UNTU had repeatedly warned Prasa management that the crisis at Metrorail stations was a tragedy waiting to happen and pleaded with them to take swift to avoid innocent people being killed or injured.
In one instance an UNTU train driver had to book off duty at 16:47 yesterday afternoon, but was only able to book off at 06:05 today. The result is that the train services are even more chaotic today because several train drivers had to go and rest.
This comes six months after Walker promised UNTU that he was implementing a drastic action plan to improve the safety on railway routes in the Western Cape. Walker’s plan was aimed at protecting Prasa’s staff, assets and innocent commuters against criminals.
“UNTU has no time for empty promises. Walker’s inability to implement preventative safety measures, to ensure that commuters are warned beforehand and to protect his staff, commuters and the assets of Prasa that belongs to the South African taxpayer, creates a life-threatening situation which cannot be tolerated,” said Harris.
“UNTU will use this incident as another example of Prasa’s inability to adhere to its Constitutional obligation to create a safe working environment for its employees in our pending application against the state-owned enterprise in the Western Cape High Court. UNTU has applied to the Court to force Prasa to implement reasonable safety measures to protect its employees, our members”.
A date has not yet been set for the Union’s application to be heard. UNTU is the majority Union in Prasa and Harris plans to write a letter to Prasa Acting Group Executive Lindikhaya Zide to set out the Unions demand for the resignation of Walker.
FEDUSA Acting General Secretary Riefdah Ajam said the safety of UNTU members remains paramount to the union federation and that the lack of communication by Metrorail when trains are re-routed or cancelled train services leaves the working class in a state of despair.
“It is insulting that only 60 out of the 88 train sets are available due to vandalism, which Prasa has failed to address and causes further panic and despair for commuters following the torching of 2 coaches, now compounding the situation,” Ajam said.
“It is an irony that police who are supposed to protect UNTU members and staff from angry crowds are themselves intimidated and leave UNTU members at the mercy of irate crowds. FEDUSA would like to call on the Cape Chamber of Commerce and their affiliated businesses to be sympathetic to the plight of the workers as they cannot continue to be held liable for a failing transportation system that holds them at ransom in the early hours of the morning and late at night when they have to wait for hours on end for trains.
“The lack of implementation of the criminal law amendment bill is simply unacceptable as wilful and malicious damage to property continues unabated. Urgent intervention by the MEC for Public Works and Transport as well as PRASA must be expedited, as they will be held equally liable for further loss of income by struggling commuters already faced with exorbitant and additional expenditure due to now using alternate forms of transport”.
FEDUSA is the largest politically non-aligned trade union federation in South Africa and represents a diverse membership from a variety of sectors in industry. See www.fedusa.org.za for more information.
For interviews please contact:
FEDUSA Acting President
Cell: 083 708 7733
FEDUSA Acting General Secretary
Cell: 079 696 2625
UNTU General Secretary
Cell: 082 566 5516