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Gautrain strike could have devastating economic impact says Chamber of Commerce

Jul 30 2018 15:50
Tehillah Niselow

The Gautrain strike could have a devastating impact on the country’s economic hub, said the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as workers at the rapid rail downed tools on Monday over wage increases. 

Sacci’s CEO, Alan Mukoki, said on Monday the industrial action was affecting key routes in the province, such as the Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport link, and the popular Johannesburg to Pretoria track. 

Mukoki added, however, that the most serious effect of the strike was workers asking for 10% wage increases, while the company running the Gautrain, the Bombela Operating Company (BOC) had offered 8.5% in pay hikes, a figure already above inflation. 

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) reading for June was 4.6% year-on-year.

"We will end up paying for it. If they are short of revenue, [the] Gauteng provincial government provides the shortfall to their revenue losses," Mukoki told Fin24 by phone. 

'Elitist' transport 

Mukoki also criticised the rapid rail transport system for being "way too expensive" for domestic workers and security guards. He said the Gautrain, which transports more than 60 000 people daily, does not qualify as public transport. 

"The Gautrain system is not adequate. It should be working in conjunction with other rail…we need to have a system that is very much integrated," Mukoki said. 

In March 2017, the Gautrain Management Agency announced plans to extend the rapid rail route by 150 kilometres over the next 20 years, with 19 new stations planned, including in Randburg, Fourways, and Soweto. 

As it stands, a single trip between Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD and Sandton on the Gautrain costs R30. A Metrobus user pay R11.56 for the same trip, while a minibus taxi's price is approximately R13 according to WhereIsMyTransport's 2017 report.

Ride hailing app Uber, meanwhile, will cost a traveller in the region of R148. 

Train drivers sleep at work 

The United National Transport Union (UNTU) has defended its demand for a transport allowance of R800, a housing allowance of R1 600, a basic salary increase of 10%, and incentive bonuses of R20 000 for all employees, saying workers sometimes have to sleep at the stations, as they cannot afford to use private transportation while working early or late shifts. 

Gautrain spokesperson Kesagee Nayager said: "The Company offered an 8.5% increase in salaries and benefits.

"Furthermore, it offered to increase the minimum wage for operational staff to R8 500 per month. This offer was rejected by UNTU, whose latest demand equates to a global increase of 19.5%." 

Reduced service 

Commuters have been advised to make alternative transport arrangements as the Gautrain is operating a reduced service, consisting of a peak period train service between Centurion and Sandton every 12 minutes, and between Sandton and Park stations every 20 minutes.

No trains are running during the off-peak period, and only Centurion, Sandton and Park stations are open. 

The rapid rail announced on Monday morning that striking workers had blocked the entrance to its Midrand depot, causing delays to bus trips to the OR Tambo international Airport and Rhodesfield stations. 

Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Dr Ismail Vadi, on Monday urged striking workers to follow the law and refrain from acts of criminality, intimidation or sabotage."It has come to my attention that striking workers at the Gautrain Depot today stopped buses from exiting the Gautrain Depot," Vadi said in a statement. 

"These buses were meant to accommodate certain passengers during peak times. This, I’m told, interfered with the contingency plan that was put in place by BOC to ensure that passengers are not too inconvenienced by this strike."I would like to remind the Gautrain’s striking workers that whilst I respect any worker’s right to strike, they must equally respect the law and be cognisant to the fact that their non-striking colleagues have a right to work without any intimidation. 

Vadi expressed the hope that BOC and UNTU would reach agreement soon. UNTU, meanwhile, denied preventing buses from departing the depot. 

At lunchtime on Monday, there was no news as to whether negotiations would resume. Gautrain leadership said on Monday morning it remained "open to negotiations" while UNTU vowed to continue with the industrial action until workers' demands were taken seriously.  

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