South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) welcomes Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s maiden budget vote speech as presented in Parliament on Tuesday.
The minister spoke extensively about his plans to address the challenges at Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) including the appointment of a permanent board of control comprised of capable, educated, young men and women with fresh ideas and not the same recycled faces we have seen on boards before. Mr Fix It, as he likes to refer to himself, said he would also formulate a war room for Prasa.
Consequence management would become the order of the day, Mbalula said. The new board would have to appoint a permanent CEO to fast-track and complete the modernisation project; ensure commuter trains arrive on time 85% of the time instead of the current 73%; hire engineers and other qualified staff to fill critical vacancies and improve the safety and security on trains.
SATAWU was relieved to hear the bulk of the transport department’s budget would be allocated to Prasa (16.4 billion) and South African National Roads Agency (R21 billion). This put paid to the idea that a portion of Prasa’s allocation would be redirected to Sanral to close the funding gap caused by the unpaid e-tolls.
We were also pleased at the announcement of a task team comprising the transport ministry, the Gauteng government and Treasury to deal with the issue of user-pay e-tolls once and for all.
Though Minister Mbalula said the department would be restructuring bus subsidies, we are concerned he did not provide much detail. As a union in this sector, SATAWU is constantly audience to operators’ complaints that the subsidies are not adequate and the government contracts they service are not fit for purpose.
During the 2018 bus strike employers complained they could not afford to pay workers more because the subsidies they received were too meagre to assist with funding requirements. One company took its case to the Labour Court in a desperate bid to prove it could not afford to pay the negotiated wage increase.
Currently one of the companies we organise is on the brink of insolvency as it cannot pay its creditors, salaries or even buy fuel to operate its buses. The company blames its financial woes on non-profitable, outdated government contracts whose rates are not market related. The CEO alleges the bus company has not received a cash injection from government for capital expenditure or operations.
We are worried that if government does not intervene, the company will be left with no option but to shutdown, leaving about 1 800 workers jobless and without a means to eke out a living.
We appeal to the minister to urgently restructure bus company subsidies and contracts. In addition, minister should engage the taxi industry on the introduction of a subsidy within a regulatory framework that will make it possible for taxi owners to comply with laws of the country and labour laws in particular.