Trains back for now

Due to the MetroRail Train Driver's strike there was complete chaos on the Cape Town Taxi rank with commuters fighting for spots on over-loaded taxis. Photo: Matthew Jordaan.

Due to the MetroRail Train Driver's strike there was complete chaos on the Cape Town Taxi rank with commuters fighting for spots on over-loaded taxis. Photo: Matthew Jordaan.

Published Dec 2, 2010


Trains are to run again on Thursday after Wednesday’s wildcat strike, but unions warn a legal strike is to follow within days.

The illegal strike over shift changes and overtime pay caused havoc for tens of thousands of Metrorail commuters.

Unions have given Metrorail 48 hours notice of the intention to go on a legal strike.

This after about 160 000 commuters were left fuming and had to use taxis or buses to get to work yesterday when members of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu) and the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) downed tools over shift changes and overtime pay.

Following urgent talks with Metrorail and the company’s warning that it would interdict them, union leaders said the strike was “suspended until further notice”.

Metrorail said the relief for commuters may be short-lived, and it would challenge the legality of the strike notice.

“Trains will start to operate as and when train operations staff return to work. Metrorail continues to advise people with urgent appointments or students writing examinations to make alternative arrangements. Metrorail apologises for the unintended disruptions and the inconvenience to commuters,” Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said.


While Satawu provincial secretary Thandubuntu Roto defended the illegal strike, Utatu general secretary Chris de Vos said: “We received a letter from Metrorail’s lawyers that if we did not return to work, they will go to court.”

Transport and Public Works MEC Robin Carlisle slammed the unions and Metrorail for failing commuters. He said they should have resolved their dispute without inconveniencing commuters. He slammed the unions’ action as “irresponsible”. “It is outrageous. They are playing with the needs of over 160 000 commuters.”

Carlisle said contingency measures used during the Metrorail wage strike in May were being reintroduced.

This includes Golden Arrow buses operating extra peak time trips, taxis helping with extra trips and employers being asked to stagger work hours.

“I suspect we have another strike coming up next week. We are ready for all eventualities, but this is an unsatisfactory situation,” Carlisle said.

Roto said union members had decided to strike in response to Metrorail’s intention to implement shift changes that would result in reduction of overtime pay.

“Metrorail wanted to implement it today. We said the issues were negotiated nationally so why can’t we go back to national and negotiate it there. The strike is suspended and members will return to work (Thursday),” he said.

About the illegal strike’s impact, Roto said: “Why should we give notice? We are saying the strike is legal. Inconvenience to commuters was by Metrorail not us.”

Commuters interviewed yesterday criticised Metrorail and the unions for being inconsiderate. “All these people care about is making money, they don’t think about the customers. Yesterday I bought two monthly tickets for myself and my wife, now we have to pay extra money on taxis. They could have told us,” said Thabile Mabala who was waiting for a taxi to Khayelitsha at the chaotic taxi rank.

Clive Manuel, who had to walk from Claremont to the city yesterday to get to work, said: “There were no trains and the queues at taxis were long. I’m going to walk again tonight because it doesn’t look any better than this morning.

“We can’t work like this.”

Some commuters scrambled to get into taxis first. A group jumped the queue. Some people shoved one another around for a ride home.

Golden Arrow Bus Services spokesperson Bronwen Dyke said its services were stretched yesterday, but the company assisted Metrorail passengers who had valid weekly or monthly train tickets. They could use their tickets on buses from 8am to 3.30pm and from 6.30pm to 5.30am, during the rail strike.

“This is done in fairness to Golden Arrow customers and to avoid overcrowding,” Dyke said.

“Rail commuters boarding a Golden Arrow bus outside of these hours will have to pay the cash fare.

“Golden Arrow will operate additional trips to and from the areas where there is the greatest demand and we will continue to operate until all passengers waiting at bus stops have been assisted,” she said.

Meanwhile Cape Chamber of Commerce said many companies had reported that workers arrived late for duty yesterday and had to be released early so they could find transport.

Chamber president Michael Bagraim said: “Public transport should be declared an essential service as strikes in the industry could cause massive disruptions, undermine productivity and lead to major financial losses. In cases like this it is the public, workers in other industries and businesses that are hurt and not the employer.” - Cape Times

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