The majority of the members of the United National Transport Union (UNTU) working for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) have accepted the derailed passenger rail operator’s final salary offer of an 8% salary increase, the appointment of the new medical aid brokers and an undertaking to retrench no employees in the current financial year.

UNTU members demanded double digits when the negotiations started in February this year and still believe that their work in tiring and dangerous circumstances is worth it.

“The harsh reality is that Prasa has been a terrible employer to its employees in recent years, not implementing collective agreements and denying employees’ rights that they are entitled to.

“The membership of UNTU has had enough of its employer’s empty promises. They are expected to pay for the brunt of the billions wasted by management that cannot be accounted for. It is not the fault of any employee of Prasa that the state-owned-enterprise started this financial year on a R1, 8 billion deficit. Where was the proper management, starting from each Department all the way up to each member of the Prasa board? Where was the Minister of Transport who has a Constitutional obligation towards Prasa as its Custodian?” says Eddie de Klerk, Acting General Secretary of UNTU.

After the Prasa management negotiating team continued to play cat and mouse with Labour’s negotiating teams and even allowed the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to issue the Unions with a certificate of non-resolution of the wage dispute giving 17 000 employees the right to embark on a protected strike, it was the newly appointed Acting Chief Executive Officer of Prasa, Lindikhaya Zide, who did the honourable thing.

Zide told Labour that he is an admitted attorney of the High Court, obliged by the rules of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces and as such he is bound by his oath and an ethical code and will remain open and honest in his dealings with the Unions.
He explained that wages are currently taking up more than 64% of Prasa’s expenditure. By implementing the 8% salary increase it will increase Prasa’s wage bill with R408 million.

Zide said job losses will be on the cards, but was still prepared to convince the Prasa board to include a no retrenchment undertaking for this financial year after Labour refused to accept any agreement, irrespective of the percentage of increase, without insuring that no members are left without jobs.

De Klerk says the fate of the Prasa employees working for Mainline Passenger Service (MLPS) was also placed on the table. For the past two years, a collective agreement protected these employees from retrenchments. That agreement lapsed.

MLPS has operated at a total loss without any subsidy from Government since Prasa inherited it from Transnet. While Prasa must pay Transnet R500 million per annum for using its rail networks to operate Shosoloza Meyl, its long-distance passenger rail service, it is not even making enough money out of the ticket sales to pay the employees operating it.

The current wage agreement includes MLPS employees. It also forces Prasa to offer its employees a choice of medical aid brokers and with that a variety of medical aids to choose from to better their benefits and manage their contributions they pay towards medical aid.

“As a responsible Trade Union, UNTU will never look at the needs of individuals. Most of our members are the sole providers of extended families. The stagnant global economy has a very negative impact on the South African Economy. This year started off with Transnet offering voluntary severance packages to its 55 000 employees to try and cut back R4 billion on its wage bill.

“It was reported just yesterday that a recent survey indicated that most South African’s worst fear is to lose their jobs. The current unemployment rate of our country with its population of 55 million people is 26.6%. We don’t want any UNTU members to join the figure of hopeless job seekers.

“We have always been honest with our membership, irrespective of whether the message we had to convey is what they wanted to hear. Our negotiation team had to inform the membership of Zide’s warning and most of our members made the responsible decision to take the 8% and keep their jobs”, says De Klerk.

UNTU will sign the wage agreement as soon as the meeting of the Prasa Bargaining Forum has been convened.

For more information contact Eddie De Klerk on 082 567 6638.

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

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