Cape Town – No decision has been taken to dismiss over 500 firefighters as falsely claimed by the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu), says the City of Cape Town.
A proposal has been made to resolve the matter in respect of 439 firefighters, so that any possible sanction of dismissal can be avoided, the City said in a statement on Thursday.
It has also placed it on record by written confirmation to both Samwu and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union that it is willing to review the collective agreement on firefighter working conditions at any time.
’’Samwu is the only party delaying a new agreement for firefighters by submitting unreasonable and unaffordable demands,’’ the City said.
An illegal strike in 2019 closed half of the City fire stations until an urgent interdict was granted for the safety of all residents.
’’A smaller group of individuals totalling 55 firefighters are facing more serious charges for endangering residents by actively inciting and organising the illegal strike and the City intends to proceed with these disciplinary hearings given the seriousness of these action,’’ the City said.
’’The Labour Court ruled that Samwu had no right to incite this illegal strike, especially given that firefighting is a designated essential service.
’’In all fairness, the City had no choice but to initiate disciplinary proceedings for all who participated in abandoning their essential services posts over the course of several days, despite prior warnings that this was illegal.
’’However, it can be categorically stated that the City does not decide on the sanction to be imposed for those firefighters who participated in the illegal strike action. Such a sanction would be decided on by an independent chairperson of the disciplinary process.
’’The City has in fact initiated talks with Samwu outside of the disciplinary process to resolve the matter in respect of 439 firefighters so that any possible sanction of dismissal can be avoided.
’’The City’s proposal to Samwu in this regard was sent to them on 8 April, 2021 already and Samwu have however not accepted this offer and it also appears that Samwu have not kept their members updated on this matter.
’’As a result, individual firefighters have been contacting the office of the Acting Executive Director: Safety and Security to ascertain the status of the disciplinary process and the Acting ED therefore deemed it appropriate to meet with the firefighters to give an update to them.
’’This meeting took place today at the Cape Town Stadium and the Acting ED explained to them what the City’s proposal was in order to avoid any possible sanction of dismissal and urged them to consider such proposal. As the City regards this meeting as an internal Employer/Employee meeting, it does not deem it appropriate to divulge the details of the proposal at this stage.’’
Collective agreement on firefighter standby allowance
’’To date, the 24-hour shift system has been upheld in all collective agreements between the City and all unions representing firefighters, including Samwu,’’ the City said.
’’Given that fires can occur at any time, the 24-hour shift system is 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 which 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 10 x 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, stand-down time is at their disposal to pursue activities of their choice. Sleeping quarters, rooms, beds and bedding as well as recreational facilities are provided.
’’Samwu’s demand that the standby allowance be 79% of the basic salary - this would amount to nearly R250 million more per annum. The City previously offered 35%, up from the current 22.8%, backed by an independent arbitration recommendation, which parties had voluntarily entered into. This offer was rejected by SAMWU.
’’The different ranks of firefighters have different pay scales and their current basic rates range between R52.28 and R152.96 an hour, depending on rank and seniority. In addition to the basic rate, an amount of approximately 40% of such basic rate is payable for benefits such as Pension Fund and Medical Aid contributions and the current 22,8% standby allowance is also payable over and above the basic rate.
’’The City is ready to review the current collective bargaining agreement at any time and any changes to the working hours and benefits of the firefighters will be negotiated between the City and both unions.
’’If Samwu is not happy with the outcome of collective bargaining talks, the law even grants them the option of compulsory arbitration, with a full opportunity to argue their corner to an independent panellist.
The truth is Samwu are actively delaying a new deal for firefighters because they know their 79% demand is unreasonable and unaffordable.’’