SAMWU's May Day march, on May 1, started at Keizersgracht Street, in Cape Town. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
SAMWU's May Day march, on May 1, started at Keizersgracht Street, in Cape Town. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

JP Smith under fire for his comments regarding firefighters’ working hours

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published May 4, 2021

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Cape Town - The SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) are incensed over comments by safety and security mayoral committee (mayco) member JP Smith, about the working conditions of the firefighters facing disciplinary action by the City.

Samwu Cape Town regional secretary Mike Khumalo said it was the union’s duty to correct and guide, where the DA-led City erred.

Khumalo said that, in 2018, senior commissioners at the bargaining council advisory award recommended that 35% be a starting point for negotiations, as fair compensation, and that the agreement should be binding and never be revisited.

Subsequently, the City offered 35% – with punitive measures stating that when an employee was on annual leave, sick leave , family responsibility leave, and any form of leave, they would forfeit the allowance for a period of absentia.

He said the unions rejected that offer, and that it is fact-based – as that 35% constituted about 3% of allowance per shift.

This, after a statement by Smith that, on average, a firefighter works 7.5 hours more per month than other City employees.

Khumalo said that was just ridiculous and scornfully abusive to anyone that could do basic maths, and quite insulting to Cape Town’s mathematical ability.

He said all other City employees work eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks in a month, which works out 160 hours worked per month (Basic Condition of Employment Act).

Khumalo said firefighters work 24 hours per month, over 10 shifts, and therefore work240 hours. The total of 160 hours, subtracted from 240 hours means that firefighters work 80 hours more than other City employees.

The battle of the shifts came at a time when more than 500 firefighters were facing disciplinary hearings for refusing to “work as required”, and were 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, by the City’s acting executive director Vincent Botto, at the Cape Town Stadium on Thursday, and on Saturday they marched to the Civic Centre in a bid to seek political intervention.

When the City was approached regarding Samwu's allegations about their unfair shifts, the City did not respond. However, in their previous statement, Smith said the difference was that firefighters were essential services and emergency responders, and were paid a standby allowance, which was much higher than the standby allowance paid to other categories of staff.

Smith said such standby allowance was payable as compensation for their schedule of ten 24 hour shifts per month, with time off in between.

"Although staff at stations are required to be on site and on standby after normal working hours, besides other duties from time to time and attending to emergency calls, time off is at their disposal to pursue activities of their choice. Sleeping quarters, rooms, beds and bedding, as well as recreational facilities are provided," he said.

Samwu's deputy secretary Bridget Nkomana said what concerned them was the reason why the City was so hellbent on allowing raging fires to burn out of control, and reluctant to attack big infernos, but have a huge appetite to attack the firefighting personnel.

Cape Argus

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