To mark Transport Month SATAWU members at Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will hold lunchtime pickets across Gauteng today, 23 October, to raise concerns about safety at work.
Pickets will be held between 12pm and 2pm at Umjantshi House in Park Station, Pretoria Main Station in Tshwane and at the Gauteng South Rail Depot in Springs.
Workers are concerned about issues of safety as a condition of service. The threat of attacks and hijackings faced by train drivers daily is a matter of public record. However, other Prasa employees also complain about unsafe conditions at work. Protection Services members, for instance, are not provided with firearms even though they are fully trained and incidents they attend to are dangerous as culprits are often armed. Nor are they provided with protective vests or batons with which to defend themselves.
In addition, Protection Services members who are charged with patrolling the yards where train sets are kept at night lament the lack of proper lighting; while those who fix trains rely on their cellphone torches to complete tasks because the workshop is poorly lit; and customer services personnel feel vulnerable as no protection is provided for them even though they work with cash.
Plus Prasa has stopped holding meetings with employees and unions to apprise them of safety hazards and how to mitigate them. This partly explains why the Rail Safety Regular (RSR) continues to renew Prasa’s operating license every six months instead of granting if for the full 36 months.
The fact is Prasa’s monopoly has an unintended consequence in that if the regulator revokes its operating license, millions of South Africans who rely on it for their daily commute will be left stranded. This explains why the rail agency’s management has adapted a laissez-faire attitude opting to pay fines levied by the RSR rather than comply with regulations. The same attitude has resulted in Prasa’s abysmal financial state. Worse still, on auditing Prasa financial statements, Auditor General Kimi Makwetu gave the rail agency a disclaimer of opinion saying assets, fare revenue and other financial information had not been properly accounted for.
Prasa is mandated to provide affordable transport for the country’s poor but given the prevailing state of affairs at the agency, it is no wonder it is unable to meet this primary goal.