Metrorail strike against neglect and overcrowding

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COSATU has announced it is to strike on 1st December 2011 for better train service in Western Cape.

In a statement the Confederation of South African Trade Unions said: ‘COSATU has continued its negotiations with Metrorail on the level of the train services in the Western Cape, under the auspices of NEDLAC.

The NEDLAC S77 committee agreed that the consultation process complies with the statutory obligations and concluded that COSATU had discharged its obligation to consult on the crisis in Metrorail and now has the legal right to go on strike against Metrorail.

This strike is to force the government to take the crisis in Metrorail more urgently and to allocate funding to address the crisis.

This strike will happen on 1 December 2011 and will be supported by all workers, from both COSATU and non COSATU companies.

The intention is to ensure that workers are able to express their concerns about Metrorail’s conduct. The protest will happen around lunchtime and will be at the Metrorail offices in Cape Town.

The essential issue related to the discussion, focuses on whether or not the Metrorail has spent the promised money committed to in March 2008, during a previous NEDLAC engagement.

This funding however, was meant to focus on the essential problem of overcrowding and the need to procure additional train sets.

The reality is that money has been spent on Metrorail Western Cape, and even though a large part of it was related to the World Cup, it had contributed to a system improvement.

The results thereof have however not relieved the overcrowding as the required train-sets have not been put in place, so the levels of overcrowding have not been addressed and the resulting accidents and injuries continue.

This is the essential issue related to the Section 77 and Metrorail agrees that this remains an area requiring urgent attention, and it is addressed in the subsequent points made by Metrorail.

The general feeling of workers however is that the system has not been addressed, in relation to the undertakings.

This becomes a major concern when workers look at the spend on a fleet of new airplanes and the hundreds of buses for the IRT, as well as the Gautrain by the ministry of Transport.

The perceived neglect by Transport department of Metrorail appears to be related to the lack of political will and the refusal to allocate the funding and finalise the procurement.

It is this lack of urgency by government and the subsequent lack of funding for the urgent infrastructure that leads workers to the desire to protest against the neglect and the inability of PRASA to affect the roll outs.

This is essentially the Section 77 application, and given the record of events in the unfolding discussions, we believe the matter in relation to the March 2008 can now be deemed considered.

We accordingly lodged the section 77 1 announcing our intention to protest.

The discussion had however also focused on a number of short, medium and long term possibilities to ameliorate the hardships caused by systemic under investments.

The parties agreed to continue these discussions in an endeavor to improve the service.

The rolling stock is on average 33 years old and there is now a process to procure additional sets, in a manner that will develop the local industry and promote local procurement.

This process has however not yet placed orders for the trains sets required, even though the process is underway. If the present proposed process unfolds as planned, then the first train would be available in 2015.

We have 85 sets available to transport people in the W Cape, this is a far cry from the 120 sets required to provide a service that is not chronically overcrowded.

Should all the available sets in Cape Town be operational, then a service level can be maintained even in the face of overcrowding.

This then means that interim arrangements would have to be developed to improve the system, in the meantime.

These interim arrangements should also take account of the other systemic weaknesses that needs improvements. This would include new signalling systems, but also an end to vandalism and theft of infrastructure.

Some of the measures are listed below:

• Having split starting times for workers, to spread the peak over a longer period in the morning. Each workplace will work out a roster to get their staff to travel at different times, reduced ticket cost will serve as an incentive for later trips.

• Having school kids take different trains at later times, to spread the peak and encourage this by lower priced tickets. The train sets that were cut from weekends and late nights will be reinstated to provide a 24 hour service to commuters.

• Having buses take commuters out of the system where there is presently chronic overcrowding and transporting them directly to Industrial centres.

Metrorail busses can be used for these purposes. The city and province must be brought into this discussion so the required permits can be fast tracked.

• The communities must report any instances of cable theft that leads to stopping the service immediately and we will jointly promote a toll free number.

• To get greater buy in from commuters. The pilot that is running in CT where senior citizens get free train rides every 2nd Tuesday of the month will be extended to once a week on a Tuesday. This applies only to off peak trains.

• The station platforms will be expanded in the southern suburbs line so train sets with 14 carriages can work this route, as this will dramatically reduce the overcrowding.

• The union will define more flexible working hours with the company to improve the service levels, which may include the employment of additional staff. This would also support the PRASA 90 day programme.

• The number of sets that are away for repairs at contractors will be fast tracked by extended working hours over the December break, to get the repairs concluded before the New Year.

• The building of a new line that stretches from Strand to Muizenberg, linking all the lines, will give commuters much greater flexibility and will reduce the number of commuters travelling in the same direction at the same times. It will also link historically divided communities, whilst bringing greater efficiencies to the system.

These temporary measures would be in place until 2015, when the new train sets are due to arrive, that in conjunction with the new signalling system will make the service more efficient.

These measures would be finalised in a subcommittee discussion between now and January including all the role players, so the new provisions can be operational by the time people return from the December holidays.

This represents a starting point to turn around to people in the W Cape, and will bring together all the agents of Government with the private sector and civil society and Labour, to realise the plan.

PRASA will be the lead agent and this is just an expansion of the PRASA plans. The city and Province will be called upon to make similar contributions to the workers trains as they have to putting in place a fancy bus service for the wealthy areas.

The negotiations will continue with Metrorail to find solutions to the challenges that exist in Metrorail.’