The United National Transport Union (UNTU) is set to continue with its court application in the Western Cape High Court for an order to force the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to protect its employees working on the notorious Central line between Cape Town and Khayelitsha with armed response reaction teams.
PRASA attempted to undermine the Union’s continuation with the Court application futile, by appointing armed train guards for the Central line from 6 July. Since then, train drivers are given the choice to opt for an armed guard to accompany them in their cabin on the route. Train guards were given the same option. However, from 6 July 2017 to 27 July 2017, only 9 train drivers and 16 guards, out of a total crew of 500 train drivers and train guards were fine to travel without armed guards.
The introduction of the armed guards was part of PRASA’s Acting Chief Group Executive Officer Lindikhaya Zide’s turnaround plan that is to be implemented over the next 36 months to save the passenger rail service out of its “unprecedented and existential crisis”.
Although Zide has proven himself to be a man of his word, the same cannot be said for the rest of PRASA, the Board of PRASA and the Minister of Transport. What will happen if Transport Minister Joe Maswangany decides not to appoint Zide in his Acting position; will the armed guards remain, or will the new broom cut back on them to save money? UNTU will not allow PRASA to continue to play with the lives of our members and as such, a Court order is needed to define their rights.
The Union believes that PRASA has an obligation to provide a safe working environment for its employees in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Constitution.
In 2015 the Constitutional Court ruled that safeguarding the physical well-being of passengers was a central obligation of public carriers, including PRASA. This duty is further reinforced by the specific constitutional obligation to protect passengers’ bodily integrity that rests on PRASA as an organ of state.
The Court found that PRASA had breached its public law obligations when the doors of a train coach in which Irvine van Sam Mashongwa was travelling on 1 January 2011 were left open while the train was in motion. There were no security guards on the train. Three unarmed men entered the train from the adjacent coach, robbed and assaulted Mashongwa and threw him out of the moving train. As a result, he sustained serious injuries and his left leg was amputated.
The Constitutional Court held that the harm caused was reasonably foreseeable and that Mashongwa would probably not have sustained his injuries had the doors been closed. It concluded that it was wrongful and negligent of PRASA not to observe the important practice of keeping the train doors closed while the train was in motion. However, the public sees Metrorail trains with open doors in motion passing them daily.
UNTU is awaiting a date for the application to be heard. The Union appealed to the Court to expedite the hearing.
Steve Harris, General Secretary for the United National Trade Union (UNTU)