Sunday, April 2, 2023

Single machine replaces over 100 BR employees

The process that will see some 147 Botswana Railways employees retrenched by December this year started a few years ago when an Australian company called Ansaldo started automating the organisation’s information systems. Alongside that was a restructuring exercise that has now rendered some positions obsolete.

At this point, BR has already notified its staff about the ‘likelihood’ of 147 of them being retrenched in a restructuring exercise that should be concluded at the end of this year. As part of this exercise, earlier in the year, the organisation reviewed its organisational structure, job profiles and grading system. A staff notice from the Chief Executive Officer, Dominic Ntwayagae, says that in the implementation stage, a new organisational structure with five departments will be introduced. The departments are General Management, Operations and Engineering, Human Capital, Business Development as well as Finance and Corporate Services. The current and soon-to-be-phased-out structure comprises of Finance, Corporate Services, Operations, Mechanical Services, Marketing and General Management.

“Existing jobs were analysed and this resulted in new job profiles being created. These were approved and were evaluated using the Castellion Job Evaluation System,” says Ntwayagae’s letter, adding that the new structure will shed 147 positions from the current headcount of about 850.
“Consultations and engagement with stakeholders commenced on August 1, 2012. The roll out will be extended to all staff through a line tour. The implementation phase is being given priority with a view to be concluded by December 2012. Staff will be kept abreast of developments as they unfold,” the letter says.

A BR source says that ever since 2008 when the organisation automated its systems and restructured its functions, the current exercise has been a long time coming. He gives as an example a scenario where a train is involved in an accident.

In the past, the driver would call the Operation Control Centre in Mahalapye where the controller taking the call would diarise details of the accident, report to the chief controller who would report to the operations manager who would report to the chief traffic manager who would report to the director of operations who would report to the chief executive officer.

With the Rolling Stock Information System (RSIS) that was introduced in 2008 at a cost of P200 million by Ansaldo, there are no longer those many links in the chain. Nowadays, the driver simply reports to the Mahalapye Centre and once inputed, information about the accident becomes available to all of the organisation’s departments who can share it with stakeholders on a need-to-know basis. The source says that the new operational process obviates need for traffic inspectors who in the past would visit the scene of accident, carry out an inspection and make a report that would crawl its way through the system. In the new order the investigation done is done by occupational health and safety staff who are more technically competent to do the job.

As dispensable in the new system are trains inspectors who were deployed at various stations to manage crews.

“In the future, the rostering of crews will be done centrally for the entire BR network and whereas in the past train inspectors would undertake disciplinary process regards such personnel that responsibility is now done by Human Resources personnel,” says the source.

Such function has always been the responsibility of train inspectors who monitored the despatch of trains and oversaw the preparation of trains.

In the near future, BR plans to enumerate its wagons into and from neighbouring railway administrations by mounting them with tracking devices to improve its information management systems. This task is currently undertaken by train men (assistant drivers) who have to compile a train list manually. Naturally, this development has negative job-security implications for train men.

Another Fifth-column employee group that the source cites is that of what are known as ‘callmen.’ The job of these men (and only men) was to advise railway shift-workers about their rostering schedule and in peculiar cases, rouse them out of deep sleep to report for duty. However, with mobile telephony levels being where they are in Botswana, BR no longer has any real need for callmen because train crews can be reached by cellphone. The source also says that the consignment note details that in the past would have been hand-compiled by commercial clerks are now RSIS-computed.

As an associate member of the International Union of Railways, BR is committed to global effort to harmonise international procedures for railway operations. Automation is a big part of such effort and through RSIS, BR is linked to regional freight corridor operations like Transnet Freight Rail in South Africa (formerly Spoornet) and the National Railways of Zimbabwe.


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