Mr FA Mbalula
Minister of Transport
Private Bag X9129
Ms W Tikana-Gxothiwe
Eastern Cape MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison
Private Bag X0057
Dear Minister Mbalula and MEC Tikana-Gxothiwe
Desperate plight of OR Tambo region’s traffic officers: request for urgent intervention
1. I was approached by traffic officers from the OR Tambo Region in the Eastern Cape who raised, in my view, several serious and complex matters with me in the hope that I will intervene with your offices, on their behalf.
2. The main complaint is around what they call the “24/7 – 24/2 shift-system” that was apparently introduced in August 2020. They explain how this system works in detail in their letter addressed to me on 23 July 2021, which I have attached to this letter to aid in your understanding of their plight. (Annexure A, first page)
3. The understanding I have is that in mid-October 2020 the Eastern Cape Department of Transport approached the relevant labour unions at a provincial level to discuss a proposed change from the existing shift-system that was implemented in 2016, to the 24/7 – 24/2 shift-system.
4. After this deliberation it appears that there had been some engagement process with traffic officers at grassroots level, after which a voluminous report was compiled. This report had then apparently been reduced to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that had applied to December 2020 and January 2021.
5. Part of the OR Tambo traffic officers’ discomfort stems from what I understand to be a subsequent engagement, in January 2021, between the provincial Department of Transport with union shop stewards at a district level. It seems the engagement that had previously taken place at a provincial level, had now been skipped or circumvented and it seems that no provincial union representatives had been present at these meetings. From what I understand this had been communicated to the Department of Transport’s representatives at those meetings. There has since apparently been no communication with traffic officers, from either the unions, or the Eastern Cape Department of Transport on the status and/or progress of these discussions/negotiations.
6. From what I have been made to understand, the 24/7 – 24/2 shift-system is extremely onerous and traffic officers and from their point of view “more is expected for less”. It would of course then be a very unpopular system and I can deduce that it negatively impacts on staff morale.
7. Another matter that is causing friction, that is particularly affecting traffic officers in Mthatha, is that overtime work at weekends had, as I understand it, been suspended and they could no longer earn income in this manner. Yet, there are allegations that senior staff members make use of such overtime earning opportunities, whilst those at lower levels are excluded, or prohibited, from doing so. The impression I get is that the traffic officers feel this is extremely unfair. (Annexure A, on page 2)
8. The alleged lack of standardisation of employment contracts of traffic officers seems to be further exacerbating matters. The issue of the contracts has apparently been raised with station commander/s, but if you read the traffic officers’ letter you will soon pick up on the frustration with the powers that be. (Annexure A, on page 2 and 3)
9. The traffic officers are keenly aware of the challenges they face on the job, and they experience the 24/7 – 24/2 shift-system as punitive and no-one seems to be listening to them as they express their worries, frustrations and needs. They articulate their challenges (on page 4 in their letter) e.g. poor road conditions and the risk of enforcing the law at night, as well as danger and night shift allowances.
The most alarming is the lack of the tools of their trade i.e. bullet proof vests, torches and most critical their belief that “…we have less number of officers to fulfil [our] directive… specially working at night.”
10. According to them, there are fewer than 600 officers who do duty in the Eastern Cape with 40% nearing retirement and instead of the Eastern Cape Department of Transport recruiting new, and presumably they also mean young officers to cope with the challenges they face, they perceive this 24/7 – 24/2 shift-system, as spreading an insufficient force even thinner.
11. I have been told that appeals have been made to Eastern Cape MEC of Transport, Ms Tikana-Gxothiwe, after there seems to have been further punitive measures taken, (as I understand it, suspensions without disciplinary proceedings), but neither the MEC nor the departmental leadership have yet responded.
12. There are several additional issues the traffic officers have raised with me, which are detailed on pages 6 to 8 of Annexure A around communication, low staff morale, unfavourable working conditions and discipline, which I believe deserves your attention.
13. My most ardent plea is that both your offices take the time to meet with the representatives of the traffic officers. I think there may be a severe disconnect that could be, as a first step, be remedied by merely opening the channels of communication.
14. Much of the traffic officers’ letter is a cry to be recognised and to be listened to by those responsible in higher office. Their frustration is palpable.
15. My thanks in advance for your future actions to solve this dilemma and I hope to hear from you soon as to what that course of action will be.
Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP
President of the United Democratic Movement