The Leadership of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) has reached the end of the road with Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula ignoring our repeated requests for his urgent intervention to call the Administrator he appointed at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to order.
UNTU informed the Minister Fikile Mbalula and Mr Bongisizwe Mpondo in writing today (find attached) that the Union has had enough with their consistent disregard for the law, specifically labour law, collective agreements reached over years in the PRASA Bargaining Forum, conditions of service of PRASA employees and their blatant disrespect toward UNTU, who represents the majority of PRASA employees.
“The last straw was the briefing the Administrator and the Minister had with parliament yesterday making announcement to the media afterwards without consulting/negotiating with organised labour beforehand, especially with UNTU.
“The message is clear. UNTU has seven strike certificates issued against Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) by the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
We will mobilise our members and use every one of them if the Minister and the Administrator continue to insult the Union and ignore the Constitutional rights of trade unions,” says Harris.
He refers to Section 23 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution: “Every trade union, employers’ organization and employer have the right to engage in collective bargaining.”
According to Harris PRASA can colour it in whatever way the state-owned enterprise choose but withholding deductions made from the salaries of employees for their Transnet Retirement Fund or PRASA Provident Fund contributions in February 2020 and March 2020 to subsidise PRASA’s cashflow is theft and fraud.
“This is bordering on money laundering, but that ironically is for the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to investigate, the same unit assisting the Administrator to investigate alleged corrupt individuals at PRASA,” says Harris.
UNTU also believe that PRASA is one of thousands of South African employers who is hiding behind the global COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to exploit workers.
“The first case of COVID-19 was reported in South Africa in March 2020. PRASA withheld millions of pensions- and provident fund contributions already in February 2020. PRASA continued operating a passenger rail service until the start of the lockdown midnight 26 March 2020. Surely the cashflow crisis could not have been the reason why the pension- and provident fund contributions for March 2020 where withheld,” says Harris.
The Transport Minister amended the Regulations so that PRASA could start operating on Level 4. Harris says PRASA neglect to admit to commuters that the passenger rail service was not able to convince Department of Health that PRASA could adhere to all the regulations outlined to prevent the spreading of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic on passenger trains.
The Administrator also ignored the Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi appeal to apply for the Covid-19 Temporary Employee / Employer Relief Scheme (“TERS“) from the Department of Employment and Labour, but to rather force employees to use their annual leave, calling on the terms of Basic Condition of Employment Act (BCEA) when it suits PRASA.
“At the same time PRASA showed blatant disregard for Section 10 (1) of the BCEA that reads “an employer must pay an employee at least one and one-half times the employee’s wage for overtime worked.” Now PRASA is saying “we will pay their overtime; we just don’t know when.” Will the Administrator accept a promise that he will get his salary someday? Why should his employees do what he is not prepared to do?
“This is employees who endangered their lives in March 2020 and April 2020 while the Administrator and his executive management worked from home. The affected employees are the PRASA Protection Services, the ones who have been left to fend off heavy armed organised crime syndicates who target our railway infrastructure.
“Yes section 10 (2 & 3) of the BCEA says the parties may agreement to something else. Agree, not the Administrator who can do as he pleases can unilaterally disregard the right of an employee, including the existence of a collective agreement governing overtime worked signed by PRASA and UNTU.
“To date the Administrator appointed new employees left and right without advertising a single position despite the moratorium placed on the filling of vacancies. How demoralising is that? Is there no future in PRASA for the hardworking loyal employees who have kept it going to date?” asks Harris.
UNTU will not tolerate this disgraceful treatment from neither the Minister nor the Administrator for one second longer. They can put this Union to the test.
For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.
Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Deputy-General Secretary: Media, Liaison and Communication. For UNTU press releases phone Sonja on 082 463 6806 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org