The United National Transport Union (UNTU) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), the only recognised Trade Unions in Transnet, are shocked and were caught off guard by the announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa, that Government intends to establish Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) as an independent subsidiary of Transnet.
The Unions are furious with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s misleading statement that “two Unions” has welcomed the decision. Whoever the Minister talked to, were certainly not representing the 3 135 Transnet Bargaining Council (TBC) employees working for TNPA of whom UNTU represents 54% and SATAWU represents 35,2%.
Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU, and Jack Mazibuko, General Secretary of SATAWU, says they do not believe that Government’s sudden decision to implement the National Ports Act of 2005 that has already been gazetted on 26 November 2006, is in the best interest of South Africa, Transnet itself nor its employees.
Government ignored the Unions representing Transnet employees when the Act was crafted fifteen (15) years ago and did it again now as politicians decided to implement the Act.
For the past fifteen years UNTU and SATAWU were both given the assurance by numerous stakeholders including the various former Ministers of Public Enterprises and former Chief Executive Officers of Transnet that this Act will never be implemented.
“Where Government has tried similar exercises with Transwerk, a former division of Transnet, in 1999 it later resulted in job losses of the affected employees. Transnet is already pleading poverty yet will have to carry the cost of an additional Board that will be appointed by the Minister,” says Harris who has been in the Union movement for the past 39 years.
Harris wrote numerous letters to Gordhan since his appointment in 2018 asking him to meet with the leadership of UNTU to discuss amongst others, the implications of this Act. Gordhan phoned Harris in March 2020 and undertook to ensure that the meeting was set-up after the Covid-19 pandemic “cooled down”. This meeting never took place.
The implications of the Act were mentioned for the first time by Portia Derby, CEO of Transnet, during a relationship building workshop on 7 December 2020 between the Transnet Executive and the leaderships of UNTU and SATAWU.
“I don’t know how long I will last in Transnet. I hope it is long. I pray to Jesus that no-one working for Transnet will lose their jobs if I am working at Transnet. We (Transnet and Organised Labour) must make sure that we sit around a table and say this is Transnet. We must trust each other. Competition is real. The wolves are running around between us,” said Derby. She never followed-up with the leadership of Organised Labour on her statement.
It was Gordhan who first mentioned that Government was considering changes to Transnet’s structure when he addressed the annual leadership summit of the Federation of Trade Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) to which UNTU is affiliated to.
“Commercialisation of the Ports and the Rail infrastructure is important and can serve as an example to create new opportunities for both public and private participants,” said Gordhan. He emphasized that he believed this would enhance Transnet’s efficiency and productivity “massively”.
Today, Ramaphosa said that the South African economy suffers if the ports are inefficient or if imports and exports are delayed. He referred to the decline in the performance of our ports in comparison with other ports on the continent and around the world, but failed to mention that this was the result of a decade of state capture in Transnet. The Zondo Commission heard evidence in December 2020 of how the Guptas benefitted from Transnet Ports contracts.
According to Ramaphosa, the establishment of TNPA as an independent subsidiary of Transnet means that TNPA will exist independently with its own board appointed by the Minister of Public Enterprises.
“An essential part of addressing the challenges in our ports is to create a clear separation between the roles of the infrastructure owner, which is the Transnet National Ports Authority, and the terminal operator, which is Transnet Port Terminals,” said Ramaphosa. Harris pointed out that Ramaphosa did not give a date when this will be done but gave his assurance that the National Ports Authority and its assets will remain in the ownership of the state.
‘’There will be no jobs lost because of the creation of the new subsidiary; only greater efficiency and more investment,” said Ramaphosa. According to Ramaphosa, Gordhan will appoint an interim board by the 30th of June 2021 to oversee the establishment of the new subsidiary, ensuring that this process is concluded as quickly as possible.
Harris and Mazibuko stated that Organised Labour will immediately engage with Transnet to ensure that their members are protected in this process and to be able to respond to the questions and uncertainty this announcement created with affected members in these exceedingly trying times.
Organised Labour will continue to keep Transnet employees abreast of developments.
For media interviews and soundbites phone Harris on 082 566 5516 or Mazibuko on 082 660 4793.