Labour unions and analysts seek answers about independent port authority
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Organised labour is docking President Cyril Ramaphosa's establishment of an Authority to oversee South Africa's ports under Transnet while the market and analysts scream for details of what is arguably one of the continent's most important trade platforms.
The United National Transport Union (Untu) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), the only recognised trade unions in Transnet, said yesterday they were caught off guard by the announcement made by Ramaphosa to establishment Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) as an independent subsidiary of Transnet.
"The Unions are furious with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s misleading statement that “two unions” has welcomed the decision. Whoever the minister talked to, were certainly not representing the 3 135 Transnet Bargaining Council (TBC) employees working for TNPA of whom Untu represents 54 percent of workers and Satawu represents 35,2 percent" they said in a joint statement.
Steve Harris, General Secretary of Untu, and Jack Mazibuko, General Secretary of Satawu, says they do not believe that government’s sudden decision to implement the National Ports Act of 2005 that has already been gazetted on November 26, 2006, is in the best interest of South Africa, Transnet itself nor its employees.
Labour said it was disgruntled at being ignored when the Act was crafted fifteen (15) years ago as well as now when politicians decided to implement the Act saying Untu and Satawu were both given the assurance by numerous stakeholders including the various former Ministers of Public Enterprises and former Chief Executive Officers of Transnet that this Act will never be implemented.
“Where Government has tried a similar exercise with Transwerk, a former division of Transnet, in 1999 it later resulted in job losses of the affected employees. Transnet is already pleading poverty, yet it will have to carry the cost of an additional Board that will be appointed by the Minister,” says Harris who has been in the union movement for the past 39 years.
Harris and Mazibuko stated that organised labour will immediately engage with Transnet to ensure that their members are protected in this process and to be able to respond to the questions and uncertainty this announcement created with affected members in these exceedingly trying times.
According to the Ports Master Plan, part of the urgent improvements include deepening of Durban's Maydon Wharf channel to allow larger, modern vessels to enter the port, the infill of Pier 1 and Pier 2 to create additional capacity for containers, and the development of a new container terminal in the Point Precinct.
Altogether, the expansion of infrastructure at the port will require R100 billion in new investment over the next decade.
Ramaphosa said that these investments will completely transform the port, expanding its capacity for container handling from 2.9 million units to more than 11 million units.
According to the World Bank and IHS Markit global Container Port Performance Index (CPPI), South African ports performed exceedingly poorly. Out of 351 facilities, the Index ranked Cape Town at 347th; Port Elizabeth at 348th; Durban at 349th; and Ngqura at 315st.
The Index is based on total port hours per ship call, which is defined as the elapsed time between when a ship reaches a port to its departure from the berth having completed its cargo exchange.
Labour said President Ramaphosa referred to the decline in the performance of the ports in comparison with other ports on the continent and around the world but failed to mention that this was the result of a decade of state capture in Transnet.
"I think it is potentially exciting news regarding the Transnet National Ports Authority, but the devil is in the details," said Free Market Foundation's Chris Hattingh.
He said a major contributor to the ports’ inefficiency is because of Transnet. If this new Ports Authority is simply a subsidiary of Transnet, will the people in charge be able to take the tough decisions necessary to improve the efficiency of the country’s ports?
"It takes more than simply changing ‘ownership’ in name – you need to get experts in charge, and hopefully obtain maximum input from people working in the docks, in the terminals, and managing the ships themselves, to identify the major blockages and causes of inefficiency in general," he said.
This might be pointing in the right direction, potentially allowing different parts of Transnet to operate independently and more efficiently, but again we have to wait a little while to see if any actual positive change will come about.
Analysts said the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) points in a positive direction for Africa as a whole, and it can unlock a lot of economic growth and job creation, if countries such as South Africa make the necessary reforms to facilitate the easier flow of goods and services.
"Those countries that facilitate the flow of goods, through the right reforms, will reap the benefits not just in terms of consumers having more choice, but those countries will also be more open to various different people around the world coming to that country, and contributing to the solving of various challenges and problems. Trade is as much about reaping the benefits of goods and services, as well as diverse people mixing and applying their minds and ideas to solving problems," an analyst said.
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