Protesters demand safer trains, workspaces

Nkosinathi Bemce of United National Transport Union (UNTU).

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and its sister unions gathered in Cape Town on Friday July 26, to protest against the poor train service and unsafe working environments in the health and transport sectors.

They also called for the government to safeguard their assets and to prioritise occupational health and safety.

Fedusa general secretary, Riefdah Ajam, said the protest was to highlight the poor conditions that emergency medical services (EMS), those in the health sector, and Metrorail staff work under, and to ask president Cyril Ramaphosa to declare the passenger rail crisis a national disaster.

They marched to parliament to hand over a memorandum.

She said the unions have been negotiating with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) for at least two years and have reached a deadlock.

Gerald Lotriet, of Goodwood, the provincial chairperson at the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (HOSPERSA), said occupational health and safety in the education sectors, the health sector and the emergency services are all ongoing issues.

“Our EMS personnel are being attacked daily. We have to get to work in the conditions that are frightening, then we have to work in those same conditions.”

Martinique Marinus, of Athlone, provincial manager at Hospersa, said the members make use of the trains, however, they are being robbed.

“We are saying enough is enough.”

She said some of the issues they have are with faulty equipment and lack of protective clothing, to name a few.

“But they still expect us to do the work.”

She said a health and safety committee was established in 2017, however, it was not meeting the requirements.

“The City needs to come on board. We need law enforcement – we need better protection. We can’t go into areas like Hanover Park and Mitchell’s Plain because they are deemed red-zones.”

Jerome Claasen, from Pelican Park, who is a nurse, said for the past five years, going to work in the southern suburbs was stressful and it was becoming too much to handle.

“We are in danger in the hospitals. When we treat gangsters, they come into the hospital to finish their wars. We just want to be in a safer environment with better access control.”

Andrew Salick, from Athlone, said post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real among EMS members.

“How do we explain the emotions and feelings that our members are going through? We go through hell daily.

“They send us to trauma counsellors who go through the same thing because hospitals aren’t safe anymore.There are members who suffer from PTSD for years. It is unacceptable. Where does this end?”

He said EMS need more resources, and they need people to understand that they are there to save lives but cannot do it if they were constantly attacked.

“The trauma it causes our personnel has them off for a few days at a time. We are attacked and robbed – we are trying to save a life and then get robbed in the same area. Our resources are being taken away.”

Craig Appels, a shop steward at the Public Service Association (PSA), said the march is to ensure safety on the trains.

“Infrastructure should be looked at, the government cannot be making promises for years and nothing has come from these promises. They leave us with no choice but to march to Parliament,” said Mr Appels.

“On a daily basis, our members don’t get to work and they can’t look after their families financially, by this not happening we cannot stimulate the economy.”

A Beacon Valley resident and a senior porter at a hospital in Rondebosch, Reginald Langeveldt said many times the trains stand still in the middle of nowhere.

“Sometimes I would have to walk alone from Philippi station to Mitchell’s Plain station and get stopped by SAPS who ask where I am going. I would need to show my train ticket to prove that I am not a criminal and I did not pass by to rob people but to walk home. Winter is a terrible time to be walking around to catch a train and to get home. I would have to be on the move as early as 4am to catch the train and I am out as late as 10pm at night trying to get home when the trains are not working or moving to Mitchell’s Plain,” Mr Langeveldt said.

Barbara Links of Kraaifontein said she had been travelling on the trains for 38 years to Tygerberg, but recently had to move because there are never trains available.

“We get home late at night because of delays and full trains. The situation is just getting worse. We have had enough.”

Asked about the low turnout, Ms Ajam said: “Trains are shut down so our members can’t make it to the strike.”

However, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) said in a statement that they recognised the mass action on Friday July 26 was not a labour strike against Prasa but a Fedusa-led mass action against government along with its affiliated union, United National Transport Union (UNTU), as the majority union at PRASA.

National Prasa spokesperson, Nana Zenani, said the Western Cape train services were operating a normal weekday service with minimal cancellations.

Some delays occurred on Friday due to usual operational challenges, including vandalism, manual authorisations and speed restrictions, she said.

The City of Cape Town, SAPS and Metrorail were contacted for comment, but did not respond at the time the paper went to print.