Cape Town - More than 500 firefighters facing disciplinary hearings for refusing to “work as required” are seeking community and political intervention in a bid to stop the City from sanctioning them.
Some of those firefighters were summoned to a meeting relating to their pending disciplinary hearing to communicate a speedy and amicable solution by the City’s acting Executive Director, Vincent Botto, at the Cape Town Stadium yesterday.
SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) regional chairperson Mzoxolo Miselo said the City was still on the verge of disciplining 525 firefighters.
The firefighters are facing disciplinary hearings for refusing to “work as required”. Their letters of notice from the City stated that the workers allegedly committed wilful gross misconduct when, during the period between October 1 and 8, 2019, they participated in an unlawful strike by refusing to work according to the shift system.
Miselo said they had tried some interventions in terms of how the City should deal with the situation, “and they have not listened to us”.
Miselo denied that they had participated in a strike action. He said they knew the strike processes, and if they were on strike then there were processes that the City needed to follow, which it had not.
“We have been trying to convince them that these people were not on strike, it’s just that they have been talking about the fire lapse agreement, which is old and outdated. We wanted to come up with a new agreement with them, which they never wanted to,” he said.
JP Smith, the Mayco member for Safety and Security, said no decision had been taken to dismiss the firefighters as falsely claimed by Samwu, and that a proposal had been made to resolve the matter in respect of 439 firefighters so that any possible sanction of dismissal could be avoided.
Smith said the City had also placed it on record by written confirmation to both Samwu and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union that it was willing and ready to review the collective agreement on firefighter working conditions at any time.
"To date, the 24-hour shift system has been upheld in all collective agreements between the City and all unions representing firefighters, including Samwu," he said.
Given that fires could occur at any time, Smith said, the 24-hour shift system was rational, necessary, and beneficial to public safety and firefighters alike.
“On average, a firefighter works 7.5 hours more per month than other City employees. The difference is this – firefighters are essential services emergency responders, paid a standby allowance that is way above the standby allowance paid to other categories of staff for being on standby. Such standby allowance is payable as compensation for their schedule of 10x24-hour shifts per month, with time off in between,” he said.
Smith said that although staff at stations were required to be on site and on standby after normal working hours, besides other duties from time to time and attending to emergency calls, stand-down time was at their disposal to pursue activities of their choice.
“Sleeping quarters, rooms, beds and bedding as well as recreational facilities are provided,” said Smith in response to Samwu’s demand that the standby allowance be 79% of the basic salary – that would amount to nearly R250 million more per annum.
He said the City had previously offered 35%, up from the current 22.8%, backed by an independent arbitration recommendation, which parties had voluntarily entered into, but the offer had been rejected by Samwu.