Pretoria – New security contracts, personnel training along with the SAPS and deployment of personnel in key hotspot areas form part of the plan by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to deal with safety concerns.
Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said: “These are brought about by many factors such as the rampant vandalism of the lines which affects our services, the criminal elements that also seep into our system further compounding the issues.
“Our staff and commuters remain a priority in all areas of decision making.
“This is demonstrated in a number of ways; the security team is arming members who have been adequately trained.”
She said there was continued engagement with employees and ongoing medical assessments. “Security planning is cognisant of the criminality against our employees and commuters."
Prasa employees last month picketed in all the Gauteng offices stating that they did not feel safe, and management was putting their lives at risk by not addressing the concerns raised.
Tim Lebabalo, national co-ordinator of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, said workers were concerned about issues of safety as a condition of service.
“The threat of attacks and hijackings faced by train drivers daily is a matter of public record. Other Prasa employees also complain about unsafe conditions at work.”
He said Protection Services members, for instance, were not provided with firearms, even though they were fully trained and incidents they attend to are dangerous as the culprits often are armed. Nor were they provided with protective vests or batons with which to defend themselves.
Lebabalo said in addition, Protection Services members who were charged with patrolling the yards where train sets were kept at night lamented the lack of proper lighting.
Those who fixed trains relied on their cellphone torches to complete tasks because the workshop was poorly lit. In addition, customer services personnel felt vulnerable as no protection was provided for them even though they worked with cash.
“Plus, Prasa has stopped holding meetings with employees and unions to apprise them of safety hazards and how to mitigate them.”
He said this partly explained why the Rail Safety Regulator continued to renew the Prasa operating licence every six months instead of granting if for the full 36 months.
“The fact is Prasa’s monopoly has an unintended consequence in that if the regulator revoked its operating licence, millions of South Africans who rely on it for their daily commute would be left stranded.”
Programmes for employees that had been injured at work and the cause of injury must be addressed, but this was not happening at Prasa.
“Employees get stones hurled and guns pointed at them and they find themselves in a quagmire as the same safety issues are not attended to months after the said incidents occurred and they are forced to work,” said Lebabalo.
Employee Anna Rabothatha said: “We feel Prasa has neglected us for so long. Our drivers are being beaten up badly and nothing is being done and they come back to the same thing. We do not have personal protective equipment, and some of us work with chemicals.
“We feel they are putting our lives at risk in many ways and there are no efforts to combat this, including the vandalism.