File picture: Bongani Shilulbane/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town  – Metrorail commuters in Cape Town and across the country will have to make contingency plans or suffer the effects of countrywide industrial action next Friday, after the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) and the United National Transport Union (Untu) were granted a strike certificate.

After lengthy discussions and efforts to reach an amicable solution and a progressive way forward floundered, the two unions were awarded permission to hold a strike on July 26, and to stage a protest march on the day, which they are calling a “national day of protest”.

Frank Nxumalo, Fedusa’s media and research officer, said: “The strike is against extremely poor and dangerous Metrorail passenger train services, that continue to violate all health and safety provisions as seen by perpetually late trains, deliberate acts of arson and endless fatal accidents that have left many families traumatised.

“As a result of failed services, commuters (have been left) helpless and frustrated daily.

“Ultimately the national day of protest is intended to force the Presidency to declare the passenger rail service crisis a national disaster, in order to facilitate the deployment of the SANDF to safeguard rail assets and help combat rampant railway crime.”

Felicity Purchase, the mayco member for transport, said: “Any disruption to the service is a cause for great concern. That said, I am concerned about the impact that this protest action will have on the already frustrated commuters.

“I am not sure if a protest will solve the problem. Therefore, I would urge those planning to embark on this action to consider using the structures and processes in place to address any grievances or concerns they may have.”

Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, public relations manager for Golden Arrow Bus Services, said: “During peak hours we make use of all of our buses, and unfortunately have no additional capacity. Outside of the peak hours we do have more flexibility to assist with additional services.”

In the past, Golden Arrow and Metrorail had an arrangement in place to together assist commuters in times of crisis. Metrorail passengers with valid weekly and monthly cards were able to travel free of charge during off-peak hours on Golden Arrow routes.

Spokesperson for the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) Nana Zenani said: “Prasa will ensure that the necessary contingency plans are in place to ensure that the protest action does not negatively affect the operations of the business, in particular the movement of passengers.

“We respect the constitutional right of any person(s) or organisation to participate in such protest actions.”

In addition to the deployment of the troops, Fedusa and Untu want the Department of Transport, Prasa - the operators of Metrorail - and the Railway Safety Regulator to take immediate remedial action, including replacing old, broken or stolen infrastructure, and unsafe and outdated train sets. They also want the reconstitution of a railway police unit.

Cape Argus