The United National Transport Union (UNTU) demands that Government start fulfilling its long overdue financial obligation towards the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). So that it may enable the passenger rail operator to; retain its current jobs, manufacture the new upmarket People’s Train, upgrade its outdated infrastructure and create another 8 000 jobs.

“When Prasa was established as a separate state owned enterprise from Transnet in 2006, Government knew that they had to subsidise the passenger rail services like any other government in the world. But no, only in South Africa will our Government ignore that promise, continue to subsidise South African Airways (SAA), the means of travel for only the wealthy, and ignore the plea of the poorest of the poor who are dependent on the passenger railway service to get to and from work,” says Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU.

UNTU reacted to President Jacob Zuma’s announcement yesterday at a press briefing in Pretoria, where he said Prasa’s target was to complete the 580 passenger trains by 2025, but only if there was a demand for them. The President handed over 18 of the new world class Prasa locomotives to be utilised.

Zuma said Prasa has 585 train stations and a total fleet of 4 735 coaches, with an overall staff complement of 18 207. UNTU represents most the employees of Prasa.

Harris says Prasa often bears the brunt when furious commuters are keen on torching coaches, costing the taxpayer R7 million per coach, with the passenger railway service having no control over the railway line network.

Prasa is required to pay “rent” to Transnet for the use of the rail network, something that has never made sense to UNTU as both are run with tax payer’s contributions, says Harris.

In the case of Mainline Passenger Service (MLPS), best known as Shosholoza Meyl to commuters, Prasa has to pay an amount of R400 million per annum, to Transnet for the use of the rail network.

Harris says the income Prasa generates from the ticket sales of Shosholoza Meyl is not even enough to cover the salaries of its employees, let alone the “rent” of the railway network.

“With Prasa on the verge of a total collapse of its services and Transnet needing to implement drastic measures to turn the ship around, the time has come for Government to listen to the voice of reason and place both state owned enterprises under the custodianship of the same minister, whether or not the Minister of Transport or of Public Enterprises, so that one Minister with one vision can get the two chief executive officers and the two boards together with one goal – improving the lives and the quality of services to all South Africans to the benefit of the South African economy,” says Harris.

Prasa started this financial year on a R1, 8 billion deficit while Transnet had to offer voluntary severance packages (VPS) to its employees to save R4 billion on its wage bill over the next three years.

For more information contact Steve Harris on 082 566 5516.

Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Media and Liaison Officer.

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