Last year’s wage strike resulted in the Road Freight Association (RFA) recently securing a settlement and a three-year deal that is expected to benefit the industry as a whole for the first time in the history of the RFA.
RFA technical and operations manager Gavin Kelly says he hopes this development will bring some stability to the industry, which probably faced one of its toughest years in 2012.
“Last year’s violent three-week wage strike resulted in at least two reported fatalities and more than 60 burnt trucks, as well as damages which cost the industry millions of rands.
“Even though some companies incurred severe losses, a tough stance had to be taken in an attempt to break the deadlock and strengthen employers’ position in future negotiations to prevent these types of strikes from happening again,” says Kelly.
He adds that, besides the strike last year, operators had to contend on a variety of levels with government looking for increased revenue mechanisms to meet spiralling budgetary requirements.
Of these, Kelly highlights that the revenue from e-tolling tariffs is sorely needed for infrastructure development, upgrades and maintenance, as the existing fuel-levy regime is not providing enough funding.
The RFA has had numerous consultations with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in an attempt to understand the e-toll model and the related costs.
These meetings enabled the RFA to access the live gantry data and run trials with some member companies to verify the cost projections arrived at by government, he says, adding that the extensive lobbying by the RFA against the exorbitant costs of e-tolling tariffs resulted in a significant reduction in the toll fees for the freight industry.
“The RFA has also lobbied for a further reduction in the proposed e-tolling discount structure for those who will use the toll roads and for an additional discount for RFA members,” says Kelly
He explains that it would no longer serve members’ interests to oppose the e-tolling system.
“As the money has already been spent on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, a fuel levy of between 12c and 13c a litre, required to service the e-tolling system’s debt, which excludes maintenance and other costs, would have cost the industry about R300-million more than the proposed e-tolling,” says Kelly.
“Further, fuel levies collected are not ring-fenced, as it is not the National Treasury’s policy to do so; therefore, there is no guaran-tee that the collected funds will be used to service and upgrade road infrastructure.”
Kelly states that smaller municipalities such as Emakhazeni, in Mpumalanga, and Maluti-A-Phofung, in the Free State, have sought to employ quasi-legal prosecution to claim funds for safety-related services rendered or for illegal parking fines to exact more funds from freight service operators. The RFA is pursuing legal action against the Emakhazeni municipality and has reserved its rights regarding the Maluti-A-Phofung municipality’s claims in this regard.
Kelly further highlights that although the RFA is currently engaged in a legal battle with the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) for its lack of consultation and failure to take into account the comments received from all three of its stakeholders with regard to increasing cross-border road permit fees, the real challenges experienced in cross-border transport are also not being addressed by the CBRTA, which
plans to introduce further permit increases.
“The Gauteng Vehicle and Licencing Office has also followed suit and, unilaterally, increased licence fees by an average of 40%,” says Kelly.
He points out that neighboring countries have also added their share of charges for health inspections of freight and fuel tankers, as well as penalties for not stopping to rest in a safe place at night, such as a designated rest stop.
“The association has also lobbied this year against the proposed removal of Regulation 21(g) of the National Road Traffic Act, No 93 of 1996, which deals with exemptions from licence fees for vehicles operating under permits in South Africa and for abnormal vehicles,” he says.
“Further, the RFA is also in discussions with government on the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, No 46 of 1998, at National Economic Devel- opment and Labour Council level and will continue to voice its opinion on the unintended consequences. These include job losses, vehicles scrapped without good cause, an increase in extortion through bribes and exploiting loopholes for corruption,” Kelly notes.
“It is obvious that, now, more than ever, the industry is regarded as an easy target from which to exact further levies, fines, penalties and fees to replenish overexpensed and dwindling coffers,” he states.
Kelly also expects that, in the next year, there will be further discussions on carbon dioxide emissions and a probable carbon tax on the fuel levy could be introduced, as the National Treasury is trying to find yet another way to generate revenue for itself.
“The RFA will continue to lobby against these increased taxes, especially in light of the freight industry not having other options available and the ongoing challenge of the availability of supply of clean fuels and biofuels. There is also concern that all funds collected will not be ringfenced and dedicated to ‘green’ efficiency promoting and power generating projects.
“The vital role that the RFA plays in the industry is underscored by the strength and effectiveness of the RFA’s lobbying activities. This ensures that issues and industry views are heard, taken seriously and addressed,” he says.
“The RFA is also in high-level talks with the Minister of Higher Education and Train-ing, as he did not appoint the RFA to the Transport Education and Training Authority board. “The RFA is the only recognised repre-sentative of the road freight industry and the current appointees are from the rail, air and maritime sectors only,” adds Kelly.