Durban - Commuters are having a tough time after Metrorail reduced the number of trains operating in eThekwini and parts of the North and South Coast by nearly one-third following a wildcat strike that led to the dismissal of 68 drivers and 63 metro train guards.
The strike began on the eve of the Easter weekend, as scores of workers and pupils were heading home for the holidays. The drivers said they feared for their lives after five colleagues had been assaulted by angry commuters in separate incidents in uMlazi and on the North Coast.
Commuters ran amok last Wednesday night after trains were delayed for several hours, venting their frustration on drivers and guards.
Metrorail regional manager Dumi Dube said on Wednesday the drivers had gone on an unprotected strike, despite reaching agreement with management to resolve security concerns.
“We met the train drivers to hear their complaints and to resolve the challenges raised by them. We reached an agreement to nominate five drivers to represent workers and on a weekly basis, review the security arrangements with management.
“We agreed to provide the crew with additional security on the trains, a request which was subsequently honoured the following morning,” Dube said.
He said management had resolved to dismiss the employees after they “failed to follow the appropriate legal processes governing strike action”.
“They had severely compromised an already overburdened rail service, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.”
Dube said Metrorail would be running a reduced service, with 145 trains fewer than usual.
A train driver, who does not want to be named, said trains had been running a reduced service since last weekend – at two-hour intervals.
“We went on an illegal strike after... management failed to protect us from angry commuters. Five drivers were assaulted by an angry mob on Wednesday last week at uMlazi and North Coast. The following day (last Thursday), we were dismissed after abandoning trains fearing for their safety,” said the driver.
“Drivers’ cabins were stoned. They also received death threats to send a strong message to the management. It was mayhem. I do not blame irritated commuters because they often get to work late. Only drivers face commuters’ wrath when they get stuck in isolated spots,” he said.
He said the infrastructure was rundown and trains were old. Drivers had been facing safety issues for years and he said it was time management addressed the problem.
He said the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) - which is responsible for Metrorail – was failing to properly communicate with passengers, who risked losing their jobs when trains ran late.
The Daily News contacted the agency and Metrorail on Wednesday for comment, but was told the spokesman was in meetings.
Mbuki Mkhize, 40, of Jadhu Place in Springfield, said he commuted daily from Temple station to Ballito, where he works for a music instrument company. He uses two trains each morning to get to work. He takes a train to Duffs Road station, where he waits for a connecting train.
“It is frustrating. I often get to work late and the manager would ask why, because other train users get to work on time. Then I have to explain the two trains I use are hardly on time. Sometimes I get home after midnight. And I am also expected to be at work by eight in the morning,” he said.
SA Transport and Allied Workers Union national spokesman Vincent Masoga said the union would fight for its members to be reinstated.