Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma’s focus on economic growth was good, but according to the United Transport and Allied Trade Union transport union (Utatu), it failed to tackle a critical link in the economy - the country’s creaking rail system.
In a statement issued on Friday, Utatu's general secretary Chris de Vos
said: “Although it had some good points, by ignoring the rail industry President Zuma’s speech failed to focus on the vital link to economic growth.”
He said the country’s rail sector problems were stifling economic growth and threatening millions of jobs. Zuma’s state of the nation address was a “golden opportunity” for Zuma to have addressed the issue.
“Yet he ignored that opportunity. Why? Is it because his government is short of solutions to the country’s commuter rail crisis?“
He claimed Zuma needed to be reminded that without efficient commuter rail services to back them, none of “his costly job creation initiatives can succeed“.
“As practical people who have to make things happen on a daily basis, we rail workers prefer practical solutions to theoretical plans that might never happen.”
He would have liked to hear Zuma announce a plan to replace the country’s obsolete rolling stock as well an intervention to end the feud between Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, which he said had been crippling train maintenance and some passenger lines. Zuma should have announced “the resumption of the desperately needed local production of passenger carriages - a measure that will immediately create thousands of jobs and end our commuter networks’ hazardous overcrowding and costly train delays.”
De Vos said Zuma should also have announced a plan to combat copper wire theft which delayed trains and threatens lives, and an increase in salaries that would “stem the flow of rail skills to Australia and New Zealand“.
Workers should be immediately appointed to fill Transnet Freight Rail’s vacancies for 1300 train drivers and 1000 train assistants.
“The government’s failure to fill its vacant Transnet Freight Rail posts is a direct contradiction of its job creation announcement. The ripple effects of appointing some 2000 additional footplate staff would create work for about ten times as many people,” said De Vos.