Union threatens strike after Transnet meeting

The SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union has threatened to make its national strike on Monday next week the launching pad of a second round of downing tools.

This follows the union’s claim that Transnet, at the weekend, went ”behind labour’s backs” and signed an agreement to transfer Metrorail to the SA Rail Commuter Corporation by the end of this month.

Satawu said organised labour within Transnet would seek an urgent interdict to set aside the agreement.

”Satawu, the United Association of SA [Uasa], the SA Railways and Harbour Workers Union [Sarhwu] and the United Transport and Allied Trade Union [Utatu] — the unions that organise in Transnet — were shocked to only learn about this on Saturday during the pre-mediation meeting where they were briefing the mediator, Charles Nupen, about the respective positions of the restructuring exercise,” Satawu said.

Meanwhile Transnet denied anything was done in secrecy, saying the transfer had been discussed throughout the year at communication forums.

Satawu’s Randall Howard charged that the transfer would affect employees, ”even though all the issues affecting workers, such as pension have not been resolved”.

”This, Transnet did behind the back of labour, despite vehement denials of unilateralism as well as media assurances that they were consulting fully with their counterparts in labour about the process of restructuring.”

Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu stressed that no Metrorail employees would be worse off as a result of the transfer.

”We have ensured that benefits such as housing, travel concessions and pensions are protected and not adversely affected by the transfer.”

Satawu added: ”If the process had not been discovered during last Saturday’s meeting and had continued, Metrorail workers would have woken up on Saturday, April 1 — just over two weeks from now — with a new employer and without any assurances of job security, guarantee and conditions of service and pension benefits.

”We need to thrash out all issues regarding protection of worker’s rights,” said Howard.

”We need to establish their job security as well as the protection of all their employment conditions and pensions before any such transfers can be effected.”

Dludlu said Transnet was willing to meet with Satawu at any time to resolve and discuss ”the perceived impact of the transfer of Metrorail”.

”We have constantly stressed that there cannot be job losses. There cannot be adverse effects on the conditions of workers. Their pay slips will still be from Metrorail … Where is the effect on benefits?”

Howard said next week’s strike would last ”much longer than three days” and that Satawu would further declare separate disputes of mutual interest in specific business units and pursue strike actions in those.

Last month unions in Transnet opposed to the parastatal’s restructuring plans staged a three-day strike in Gauteng. There were also strikes in the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

Transnet said another strike would be unjustified. ”It would be their right but Transnet would have to ensure that destruction to services is minimised.”

Satawu charged that Transnet’s management was ”hell-bent” on pushing through with their unilateral decisions without proper and meaningful engagement.

”They have dared the unions by stating that it will go ahead with the sale of non-core assets regardless and have appointed transaction advisors whilst there has been insufficient consultation on the future of these businesses.”

At the weekend, union leaders walked out of mediation talks and Transnet announced the next step of its turnaround strategy.

Transnet announced that it had appointed Standard Bank as its transaction advisers for the disposal of some of its non-core businesses, according to reports.

”Labour is of the opinion that mediation can not continue while a spectre of the sale agreement hangs in the background and unilateral decision making and implementation continues,” said Randall.

Transnet has a total workforce of about 85 000. – Sapa

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