It is no longer acceptable to fire employees working for Bombela, the Operator of the Gautrain, if they defend themselves against commuters who misbehave and physically and verbally abuse them.
The United National Transport Union (UNTU) welcomes the recent judgement of Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje in the Labour Court ordering the immediate reinstatement of our member, Clifford Morake, with retrospective effect, including payment of back-pay in the amount of R191 354.52.
The Court dismissed Bombela’s appeal against a ruling made by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) that Morake’s dismissal was procedurally and substantively unfair. Tlhotlhalemaje replaced the sanction of dismissal with a written final warning to be placed on Morake’s employment record.
“UNTU welcomes this judgement as a step in the right direction. Our members working for Bombela and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) are confronted daily by commuters who have no respect for them or regards for their lives. They are shouted at, spitted on and told that they will be burned alive.
“For too long has there been a tendency of the management of Bombela and PRASA to put the commuter first, irrespective of the conduct of the commuter, ignoring its legal obligation towards its employees to provide a safe working environment,” says Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU.
Morake was on duty as the Station Manager of the Gautrain Midrand Station on 13 October 2012 when he was called to assist with a difficult customer at the ticket office. He asked what the problem was and explained Bombela’s rules and regulations to a female commuter.
He boyfriend joined the group and he explained the rules and regulations to him also. The boyfriend told Morake “I don’t f…ing care let my girlfriend out”. Morake called security personnel to assist as both commuters smelt of alcohol, were rude, uncontrollable, and had continuously hurled profanities towards him.
They yelled at him, saying Morake was ‘another black manager!’, continued the verbal abuse and pointed fingers at him. During the tirade, reference was made to Morake’s mother’s private parts and he was accused of incompetency.
Morake continued to ask the boyfriend to vacate the station but to no avail, as the latter continued with his verbal abuse. It was at that point that Morake had made physical contact with the boyfriend, by touching him on the shoulder, neck area and back to remove him from the station. He had ultimately succeeded in removing the boyfriend from the station.
Morake denied that he forcefully pushed the boyfriend or attempted to dispossess him of his mobile phone. He contended that they boyfriend attempted to take a photograph of him and in trying to prevent him from doing that, his mobile phone fell to the ground. He denied having sought to dispossess him of his phone.
Judge Tlhotlhalemaje said the two commuters were clearly under the influence of alcohol, were vulgar, obstinate, abusive and generally uncooperative with Bombela’s staff present trying to help them or to contain the situation.
“On Morake’s uncontested evidence, the abuse and vulgarity were particularly directed towards him and in the most personal and lewd manner. The commuters had clearly broken the rules of Gautrain at the time, more particularly regarding the use of the Gautrain card, the re-entering of the station, running on the platform when she had no reason to, being unruly and under the influence of alcohol, and failing to cooperate with authorised members of staff when requested to do so,” he said.
According to Tlhotlhalemaje the submissions made on behalf of Bombela that there was nothing from the video footage to suggest that Morake had requested the security to intervene are unsustainable. This is particularly so since despite security personnel being seen on the footage, no attempt was made to call them as witnesses, and further since the video footage is muted.
“Part of Morake’s responsibilities included maintaining order in the station, and with the benefit of hindsight, I accept that members of the SAPS should have been called to assist in the light of the security personnel’s reluctance to do so. It is however easy to be wise after the fact. The circumstances at the time, and when all else had failed, required of Morake to physically deal with a clearly inebriated commuter to eject him out of the station,” the Judge ruled.
This comes days before the train service of Metrorail, a division of PRASA, is scheduled to resume this week on the notorious Central Line in the Western Cape.
UNTU members brought the services on the Central Line to a halt on 9 January 2018 after an armed security guard was shot dead on the platform of the Chris Hani Station on 8 January 2018. PRASA has suspended the services on the Central Line until they could adhere to an agreement reached with UNTU on 16 January to drastically improve the safety of train crews operating on the line.
For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.
Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media and Liaison Officer. For UNTU Press Statements phone 082 463 6806 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org