The National Social Security Authority (Nssa) has condemned infrastructure and equipment being used by the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) as unsafe and recommended that the parastatal be closed unless measures were taken to improve the situation.
Nssa’s director of occupational safety and health, Rodgers Dhliwayo, said the authority would give the parastatal time to improve the infrastructure and would not push for its immediate closure, as that would paralyse the country’s railway network.
Nssa recently investigated NRZ following complaints over poor working conditions by the Railway Association of Enginemen (Rae).
Rae members had expressed concern over unsafe working conditions and exposure to the parastatal’s dilapidated engines and infrastructure.
Dhliwayo yesterday said their investigations had confirmed the workers’ concerns.
“Our probe established the complaints by the union were true. The situation is bad and warrants the closure of the parastatal.
“They (NRZ management) are saying there is no money to rehabilitate infrastructure and engines,” he said.
In January last year, Rae president Norman Simba wrote to Nssa complaining over the parastatal’s obsolete equipment, prompting Nssa inspectors to visit all NRZ facilities this year to verify the allegations.
The workers alleged that some of the locomotives had no speedometers, vigilance units, doors and window seals, gauges or cab lights, hand brakes, sanders, fire extinguishers and snubbers.
The workers also cited poor radio communicators, non-working window wipers and scratched windscreens in locomotives which made visibility impossible, among other problems they encountered.
According to NRZ workers, the situation worsened during the 2007 to 2009 economic crisis which made several companies throw safety caution to the wind.
Dhliwayo said Nssa had urged the parastatal to improve its communication modes as a stop-gap measure to avoid accidents.
“Train drivers used to be guided by traffic control signals along rail-lines, now signals are out of order.
They have to use cellphones as an alternative measure to communicate to avoid accidents,” said Dhliwayo.
NRZ spokesperson Fanuel Masikati admitted infrastructure at the parastatal was in a poor state.
“Safety of our workers takes precedence and it is our major priority. We are engaged in the rehabilitation of rail tracks, communication systems and the locomotives in efforts to ensure workers’ safety,” said Masikati.
He said as part of the rehabilitation programme government this year allocated the parastatal $15 million for infrastructural development.
He admitted that funds were too little for the needs of NRZ but said efforts would be made to get the most out of the available resources.