It is with regret and disgust that the United National Transport Union (UNTU), the majority Union in the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), must inform South Africans that this crippled state owned enterprise (SOE) must be captured by one of its regional managers, Richard Walker.

Over the past 18 months Walker, the Regional Manager of PRASA in the Western Cape, managed to survive in his position despite of the Union’s repeated demands to PRASA’s three Acting Group Chief Executive Officers and two Chairmen of the PRASA Board that he must be removed with immediate effect after several brutal murders of workers on the Central Line of the Western Cape.

Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU, says he can declare that this railway route between Cape Town and Khayelitsha has now, under Walker’s hand, become a war zone controlled by criminals who continue to vandalise the deteriorated remaining infrastructure daily.

“The result is that thousands of commuters, who used these trains to travel to and from work, are now stranded and have to find other transportation as UNTU was forced to withhold the service of our members on this route. It has become a life-threatening working environment.

“Walker allowed this to happen despite a pending court application UNTU filed against PRASA, the Minister of Transport and the South African Police Service in the Western Cape High Court in May 2017, to ask for an order to force PRASA to fulfil its duty as an employer, to ensure that its employees work in a safe working environment. This is one of the Constitutional rights every worker in this country enjoys,” says Harris.

UNTU is awaiting the Court to allocate a date for this matter to be heard after Walker filed an answering affidavit opposing the application and stating that the Union “does not come close to making out a case for the relief it seeks.”

Despite this assurance to the Court, Walker did implement one of the reliefs sought by UNTU by contracting 90-armed security guards on 23 June 2017 last year so that a guard can escort the train driver in the cabin and another armed guard can escort the metro guard at the back of the train while they are working on the Central Line.

In his affidavit Walker stated that by contracting armed guards PRASA indicated that it does take “reasonable steps when the situation demands it.”

“Unfortunately, one of these armed guards was killed with his service pistol on Monday night, 8 January 2018, on the platform of the Chris Hani Station while he was escorting a female metro guard. This indicates that PRASA’s so-called reasonable steps are ineffective resulting in more innocent lives being lost,” says Harris.

On Tuesday, 9 January 2018, the Union informed PRASA’s current Acting Chief Group Executive Officer, Cromet Molepo that its members will not work on the Central Line with immediate effect.

UNTU demanded that PRASA arrange an Urgent meeting with Molepo, our Leadership, the
Commissioner of Police in the Western Cape and all other stakeholders, about the safety of our members and commuters who use the Central Line. This has been arranged for 17 January 2017 in Cape Town. UNTU will reconsider its position on the Central Line after the meeting. UNTU members are available to work on all other routes in Cape Town expect Central Line under the current conditions.

In the meantime, Walker met with UNTU members on Tuesday in Cape Town trying to convince them to endanger their lives for yet another day. UNTU members did not adhere to his instruction that they must continue to work on the Central Line.

In his affidavit Walker informed the court that the safety of commuters is paramount, but seems to have failed to realise that he has a legal obligation to ensure that the safety of his workers is considered as paramount too.

Harris emphasised that all the above happened after UNTU demanded Walker’s resignation from the former Acting Group Chief Executive Officer, Lindikhaya Zide, on 14 June 2017.

In a letter to Zide, UNTU stated that Walker was incompetent to fulfil the mandate of PRASA towards the South African commuters and taxpayers and unable to implement preventative measures to protect PRASA employees in his region.

Harris wrote this letter to Zide after the rampage of furious commuters at the Cape Town Station on 12 June 2017 could and would have been prevented, had Walker acted timeously to inform potential commuters that the trains were delayed, with between two to three hours due to an unforeseen event: the electricity tripping and halting the trains all over the network.

UNTU pointed out to Zide that on 10 January 2017, a year ago, Walker promised Harris in the presence of Brian Davids, UNTU Executive Council member, and Pieter Greyling, Deputy General Secretary, during a telephone conference to implement a drastic action plan to improve railway safety in the Western Cape. These promises were not kept to date, says Harris.

Harris says Zide never responded to the letter, just like his predecessor, Collins Letsoalo, did not act when it was also demanded from him to redeploy Walker.

“With the hope in our hearts that PRASA will finally turn over the page, the Leadership of UNTU repeated this demand to Molepo on 21 December 2017 when an urgent meeting was arranged to discuss the safety of UNTU members, after Walker suspended members for refusing to endanger their lives. Molepo withdrew the suspension and informed the Union that his actions will speak louder than words with regards to Walker.

“But two weeks later, Walker is still safely seated despite yet another life that has been lost. This is very disturbing for the Union as it seems as though Walker has captured PRASA and is untouchable, a luxury not enjoyed by all managers of PRASA or employees,” says Harris.

For more information phone Harris on 082 566 5516.

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