Four security firms are opposing the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) Court Application in the Western Cape High Court to remove them and have filed their own Application to amend an order directing the parastatal to continue using their services until “alternative measures were in place”.
The companies Sechaba, Chuma ,Supreme Security Services and Vusa Isizwe Pty (ltd) have accused Prasa of attempting to use “loopholes” in this order, as the entity apparently procured the services of a Durban-based security company, Mzansi Fire along the central line who "does not have the necessary experience in the Railway environment".
This, according to the firms, is in contravention of the Hlope order. However, in court papers the parastatal had said the deployment was "an intervention unit and their services will end on 30 September 2023.
However, the service providers in the Western Cape have confirmed that Msanzi Fire continues to render services on the Central line beyond their alleged termination period.
The companies will argue for the amendment, or rectification of the 2019 order by Judge President John Hlophe, instructing Prasa to in addition to providing an adequate contingency safety plan to also conduct a new security tender procurement process.
In terms of the Hlope order the service providers are allowed to approach the court to apply for further relief after PRASA has filed their affidavit in respect of the adequate measures they have put in place. The matter is expected to be heard on Thursday.
The legal representative of the companies, Mark Hess said the companies allege that the application to remove them is "premature", since PRASA should first complete and implement the procurement process and then apply for the discharge of the Hlope order.
"The removal of the firms in the province without reasonable alternative measures in place, would be a breach of PRASA’s constitutional obligations and would lead to a total collapse of the railway structure in the Western Cape," said Hess.
Their grievance also follows a 2019 order by Judge Hlophe, in which he ordered that the parastatal continue the contracts with Sechaba, Chuma and Supreme Security Services and Vusa Isizwe who was included after a successful Intervention application, on the same terms and conditions.
Prasa was ordered to finalise a security plan for national and regional deployments; that the security providers be paid up to date; and that permits be provided to operate on the rail in the Western Cape.
Hess said security services were still being rendered.
“It is only recently that it is no longer necessary to execute warrants to enforce payments after the previous group chief executive and chairman requested a meeting with me to remedy all related security service issues. The security firms also recently received an increase. The firms are obligated to pay their employees the annual statutory wage increase in terms of the recommended PSIRA rate. The last increase was in 2018 in terms of a Boards resolution. The Board acknowledged that they have to pay the service providers all arrears since the last increase in 2014 up until 2018. The Board acknowledged that they have to pay their service providers the recommended PSIRA rate in order for them to comply with their financial obligations to their employees.
However, PRASA officials has not implemented the Board’s resolution and has paid the Firms an increase that was less than what the Board approved. In my engagements with the senior PRASA officials they acknowledged that they can no longer benefit from a contract that was poorly drafted in 2011. They agreed that previous Board resolutions must be implemented. However after my engagements with the officials to pay the service providers in terms of the recommended PSIRA rate I was advised that they implemented an increase as well as the arrear increases due to the firms less than what was approved by the Board. They stipulated that the increases are pursuant to the Judge Hlophe ruling. This is incorrect. The board in 2018 approved increases to be provided on the recommended PSIRA rate dating back from the last increase in 2014. Although, during my negotiations, which was based on PSiRA rate, they only presented a lump sum based on the consumer price index. Chippa and Comwezi accepted. The agreed amount on PSIRA rates amounts to several millions more than what are due and owing to the service providers. This is an issue which will be ventilated to the appropriate forum after this current court application.
“On behalf of Chuma, Supreme and Sechaba I rejected the lump sum offer. The irony is that both Chippa and Comwezi are not parties to the Hlophe ruling,” said Hess.
Shop steward of the National Security and Unqualified Workers Union (Nasuwu), Thobela Nkone said they found themselves in an undesirable situation amid uncertainty over their jobs.
Nkone is contracted by Chippa Protection Services, a Cape Town based company, working at the Oosterzee train station in Bellville.
He also decried unreliable salary payments by Prasa.
“A lot of staff are moaning because our situation has not changed since earlier this year when we demanded payment from the company. The situation remains the same where we are not receiving our salaries for months on end. Recently, in protest to this situation, we held a stay away from work to highlight our plight. Colleagues are unable to afford their monthly expenses, even just their funeral policies. I am unable to send my children to school for a few days in the month as there just isn’t money for their travelling” said Nkone.
Since they held the stay away from October 1 until October 14, they were no nearer to getting any answers over when the situation would change, he said.
“We are told by the boss that it is because of Prasa but then Prasa said it’s because of invoices received late. We need to know the truth as it affects our livelihoods.”
Another security guard who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “It has been really tough especially before the payments became more consistent. That is no way to operate a business and it's as if they just take for granted that security services continue. This while they try and flout correct processes and we are left to suffer. Prasa must do what is right and be cognisant of employee livelihoods.”
Prasa spokesperson, Andiswa Makanda, said: “The matter is being heard in court on October 19, 2023. We will be in the position to comment once judgement has been handed down.”
Probed if Prasa would oppose the relief sought, Makanda did not comment.
Enquiries to Chippa Mpengesi of Chippa Protection Services were unanswered by deadline on Tuesday.