Trade unions have called on transport minister Fikile Mbalula to review his decision to appoint a new board for the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) without labour representation, despite a standing resolution to include them.

The unions say this decision will make it hard for workers to keep the board in check and hold it to account. The RSR — which has been accused of making a mockery of railway safety — is SA’s railway industry watchdog mandated to oversee railway safety operations through support, monitoring and enforcement.  

The new board, announced last week, includes chair Boy Johannes Nobunga, deputy chair Yongama Pamla, Sisa Lunga Mtwa, Adv Nokuzola Gloria Khumalo, Nompumelelo Ekeke, Dineo Mathibedi, Salome Chiloane-Nwabueze,  Adv Frans Johannes van der Westhuizen, and Adv Johannes Collen Weapond.

However, Riefdah Ajam, general secretary of the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa), said the new board was in violation of a standing resolution signed three years ago between the RSR board and the transport ministry. The resolution permitted Fedusa and its counterpart Cosatu to have representatives on the board “as direct stakeholders”, said Ajam. Labour representation on the board has helped shine the spotlight on rail infrastructure, adherence to health and safety protocols, and identifying “challenges on track”, among others.

On Tuesday, Ajam said the RSR hasn’t covered itself in glory in the recent past regarding enforcing rail safety owing to “tragic fatalities”  as a result of hand signalling that has “largely replaced dysfunctional automatic signals”, among others.

In its state of safety report 2018/2019, the RSR said there were 375 fatalities due to “operational occurrences” during the period under review, and 873 train collisions and 370 derailments, among other incidents.

A subsequent investigation on collisions, derailments, level crossing incidents and people struck by trains identified the “human factor element” as the largest contributor to railway accidents. These pertained to speeding, inadequate signage and poor maintenance.

“Fedusa demands that the decision must be reviewed immediately, as the very notion is both insulting and unjustifiable in light of the crucial role that labour plays in this important economic sector. We refuse to watch idly as our members are at the coalface.”

Cosatu national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the decision to exclude labour is a “flagrant contravention” of the 2018 agreement signed by the parties. Pamla called on the government to address “this crisis” and ensure labour representatives are appointed to the board with immediate effect. They will be intervening with Mbalula to correct the anomaly.

Mbalula’s spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine said: “The department of transport is in the process of finalising the board of the railway safety regulator, which will include a representative of organised labour, as has always been the case with previous boards.”


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