New  Metrorail  train at Pretoria station. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/ROBERT TSHABALALA

THE South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has called for the Metrorail regional manager in the Western Cape to be removed from office, saying he is unqualified and incompetent.

Members of the union on Tuesday marched on the Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa’s) regional offices in Cape Town to air their grievances about the "poor management of Prasa and the blatant exploitation of workers".

The union is demanding an end to outsourcing and corruption, claiming that Prasa senior managers in the Western Cape are abusing power.

Metrorail, a division of Prasa, has been under pressure because its rail commuter services have been in a serious state of decline caused by decades of underinvestment, outdated technology, the loss of critical skills and deferred maintenance.

In Cape Town, for example, where rail is considered the backbone of public transport, the service has been dogged by breakdowns, delays and cancellations.

Satawu Western Cape official Luntu Sokutu, who organised the march, said: "Prasa, especially in the Western Cape region, is one of the underperforming state-owned entities in the country run by incompetent and unqualified individuals. Richard Walker, the regional manager of Metrorail in the Western Cape, is a perfect example of this reality."

Mr Sokutu said the union had been "utterly appalled to learn that Metrorail is run by an inexperienced individual who does not even have a matric qualification".

"The same individual was demoted as head of department in customer services for gross poor performance and mismanagement. Our region is the only one running R105m under budget."

Mr Walker on Tuesday dismissed the union’s claim that he does not have matric as "unfounded and malicious". He said he had matriculated in 1989 and had been with the organisation for 22 years, working his way up the ranks. He suggested some people were unhappy with his appointment.

Mr Walker said Prasa had received late notification on Friday about the march, but there had been no request for employees to be released by the employer.

"It is the organisation’s view that the action taken by the employees is unlawful.

"The main focus of the organisation is to ensure that we operate a train service under difficult circumstances not unknown to the public," he said.

"These include high levels of vandalism, cable theft and other destructive behaviour that affects our service."

Metrorail was dealing with issues relating to stamping out corruption and fraud in the region, "which is not well received by people implicated and investigated as part of these processes", Mr Walker said.