UNTU strikes for government to ‘fix the trains’

Some of the UNTU members who took part in today's railway strike. Photo supplied

UNTU which is the majority union at Prasa wants the rail agency to be integrated with Transnet.

Members of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) took part in a national strike calling for the government to secure the railways. The strike was organised in four major urban centres where criminal attacks on the trains have raised the issue of safety for workers. The Federation of Unions of South Africa wants the deployment of the army “to patrol and safeguard the 22,298km routes and the total track distance of 30,400km.” According to the UNTU’s spokesperson, Sonja Carstens, their experience on the ground is that the railway police are ineffective and “whatever they are doing and implementing it’s not making difference.”

The union’s full-time representative at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), Thami Kwintshi, pointed to the central line in Cape Town as one of the most affected by crime and that the deployment of the army would make a big difference as the railway police are not effective. “People are being rerouted to other lines because they are not safe [on the central line],” said Kwintshi.

Earlier this week, Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula said that they would be improving safety in public transport by insourcing security personnel and provide them with training.

“The DG is tasked with developing an all encompassing national policy on safety and security in public transport as a matter of great urgency. This exercise must lead to direct insourcing of at least 80% of security personnel by Prasa, and these security officers must receive their basic training from SAPS, and I have discussed this with Minister Cele,” said Mbalula.

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UNTU is also demanding that Prasa be integrated with Transnet because, according to Carstens, it has “capacity and is more stable than Prasa.” She told Elitsha that Prasa does not have the capacity to maintain the train services and it is plagued by inconsistency in transport ministers, the company board members and CEOs.

According to Kwintshi, Prasa does not own the rail tracks, that they belong to Transnet, the rail, port and pipeline company, which falls under the Public Enterprises Ministry. “We want to move way from the Transport Ministry and go to Public Enterprise,” said Kwintshi.

The union also wants the national police commissioner to make sure that the police do their work and that the National Prosecuting Authority and the judiciary impose the provisions of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act 18 of 2015, which makes destruction of essential infrastructure a criminal offense. The torching of trains that has been plaguing Cape Town rail services, according to the law, is not currently considered to be arson.

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