Transnet boss faces horde of angry protesters
Independent Online South Africa: March 14 2006
Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos has finally come face to face with striking workers, but her insistence that the parastatal's restructuring plans were intended "to build a stronger Transnet" fell on deaf ears.
A striking government railway union member shouts slogans Monday, March 13, 2006
Ramos accepted a memorandum from striking trade unions in central Johannesburg on Monday, demanding a halt to the parastatal's restructuring plans.
The company's chief executive was lifted on to a truck when workers demanded to see the woman who they claim never consulted them about the restructuring.
"I am not at liberty to say much. However, I assure you I will not walk away from my word. Let us wait and see what comes out of the meeting with (Public Enterprises) Minister Alec Erwin, and then we can take it from there. We are only here to build a stronger Transnet," Ramos said, to boos from the crowd.
'How can you, Maria?'"Phansi ngo Maria Ramos (down with Maria Ramos). You are a gemors [a mess]," angry trade unionists shouted as she spoke.
They held placards reading "Voertsek Ramos", calling on her to negotiate in a manner which they say should be fair to all workers.
Erwin met unions on Monday to discuss the way forward on this issue.
SA Transport and Allied Workers Union president Ezrom Mabyana told Ramos it was disturbing that a sale agreement had been signed with the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, under which Metrorail would fall under the Department of Transport from April 1.
"How can you, Maria, sign an agreement we know nothing of and that we have not agreed to? We sent six to eight memoranda to your office without getting any response. Now we want answers."
'We will make sure no one is left in the workplace'
* Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi threatened that if Transnet did not listen to the demands of the workers, they would mobilise all three million members of Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa to strike in sympathy.
"You will not only face 50 000 angry workers but millions more when they take to the streets," Vavi said.
Mabyana threatened that Monday's Transnet strike would last for three more days if they did not get a "decent" response.
"We would have no choice but to ensure that the strike lasts for four days. We will make sure no one is left in the workplace. We will take all the trucks, planes, trains and buses to make sure that nobody is left at work."
Mabyana also said that although Transnet claimed that no jobs would be lost in the restructuring, about 30 000 people would be thrown out on the streets.
He stated that it would not be correct to restructure Transnet without consulting the workers.
"We cannot just hear that on April 1 Metrorail will belong to the Department of Transport."
During the mediation process at the weekend, negotiations fell apart when Transnet management announced that they had signed a sale agreement with the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, effective from April 1.
Earlier on Monday, thousands of workers were bused into Johannesburg.
The unions demanded "an end to bad-faith negotiations".
They also called for the removal of the chief negotiator, Pradeep Maharaj, from the restructuring process. Unions also want all retirement benefits in all three Transnet pension funds to be guaranteed by the new employer, whether that employer is the state or a private owner.
Under Transnet's restructuring plans, some companies belonging to it would be transferred to the government and others would be sold to the private sector.
Unions are worried that workers might lose their pension benefits. They said they had not been informed of the service conditions contained in the sale agreement.
"Maria Ramos must know how to manage her people," Vavi said. "Now we are voting with our feet. Decisions cannot just be forced down our throat. That will not be tolerated."
Vavi also said he had received news that the strike had been successful throughout the country.
The SA Communist Party backed the strike action, saying the demands of the workers were reasonable.
"They (Transnet) must stop this arrogance. They are behaving like politicians against workers' rights. We will die where our workers die," the SACP's Ndzipho Kalipa said.