Heated exchanges as firefighters’ overtime request approved by eThekwini Municipality
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DURBAN - OVERTIME pay for firefighters in the eThekwini Municipality was approved by members of the city’s executive committee (exco) after a report laid bare the glaring staff shortages in the unit.
Last week, The Mercury reported on the report that stated that the fire department and emergency services unit needed 827 firefighters but had 457 owing to the 2019 moratorium on new appointments.
This glaring shortage had compelled existing staff members to work overtime owing to staff shortages and demands for firefighting unit services across the city.
The report was only discussed at Tuesday’s exco meeting, after being withdrawn without discussion last week.
It revealed that the fire and emergency unit needed close to R30 million in additional funds for overtime pay.
Earlier on in the discussion on the report, things got tense when ANC councillor Diana Hoorzuk was accused of having said “Go to hell” after DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa had spoken.
This prompted calls from the DA councillors for mayor and exco chairperson Mxolisi Kaunda to act against the ANC councillor.
“You can’t allow us to be insulted and make it look normal,” councillor Mthethwa contended.
The mayor advised the aggrieved councillors to write to the Speaker if they were unhappy with the manner in which he had handled the matter and insisted that he had not heard Hoorzuk shouting.
The ANC councillor apologised and the meeting proceeded.
DA exco member Yogiswarie Govender decried the fire department’s state, pointing to the lack of personal protective equipment, which she said was placing staff in severe danger.
Deputy city manager for Community and Emergency Services, Dr Musa Gumede, said the fire unit remained prepared for any eventuality, but he conceded that the team was stretched.
“If we had sufficient funding we would be able to do our work more efficiently,” said Gumede.
He stressed that they had demonstrated the ability to respond swiftly during the July unrest, when the unit’s members had put out fires in different parts of the city.
The mayor said positions would soon be advertised allowing for the fire department to have an improved staff complement.
He added that the city was committed to ensuring that all areas of the city were provided with the important service.
“We have built a state-of-the-art fire station in Verulam and it will service residents from uMhlanga and Tongaat areas and this illustrates that the unit is doing well under challenging conditions,” said the mayor.
The report recommending overtime for the unit was approved by exco but DA councillors abstained. It will now be tabled before full council for approval.