No overtime, no work, say Cape Town firefighters

A portion of Mitchells Plain Day Hospital was destroyed after a fire broke out in the operating theatre area yesterday. Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

A portion of Mitchells Plain Day Hospital was destroyed after a fire broke out in the operating theatre area yesterday. Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 14, 2019


Cape Town - Come the first of next month, Cape Town’s firefighters will clock in at 8am and leave at 4pm.

They are refusing to work their usual overtime as they claim the City of Cape Town does not pay them for it.

A firefighter and rescue technician, who did not want to be named, said firefighters usually worked 10 24-hour shifts a month, which works out to as much as 60 hours per week. They are also often required to stay beyond this because of back-to-back fire calls.

“We work whole nights and into the next day because there’s call after call. We spend almost 300 hours a month at work,” he said.

The city’s firefighters are contractually employed for 40 hours per week, which they get full pay for.

While standard overtime is supposed to be 150% times the normal hourly rate, the firefighters only see a fraction of this - 12.8% of their hourly rate.

“If your normal hourly rate is R100, then they’re giving us R12.80 for every hour after normal working hours. We’re not even getting the normal hourly rate,” the firefighter said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”

Firefighters from across the city gathered at the Woodstock fire station on Friday to meet representatives from the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu).

Unless the city agrees to compensate them fully for overtime, said firefighter and Samwu shop steward Zolile Mhambi, they said they would not work any more than the 40-hour week they were contracted to.

“We’re not asking for an increase. We are here demanding to be paid lawfully,” Mhambi said. “We are being paid as 40-hour workers. From 1 October, we said we are going to be working 40 hours. If the city wants us to be 56 to 60-hour workers, they must pay us accordingly.”

Mhambi said most firefighters would have left the profession if they hadn’t been passionate about the job.

“The fire service has the most dedicated employees - we’re talking 35, 40 years of service - because of the passion and love of the job,” he said.

“We love our communities and we love what we do. When everybody else is running out, we’re running in. We help those that are in need.

“(But) mentally, physically, we

are exhausted.”

The hot, dry weather of the coming summer months and the notorious wind in the Cape place high demands on firefighters’ time and skills. There were 15 506 fires recorded in the metropole in the 2018/19 season.

Richard Bosman, the city’s executive director for safety and security, said it was committed to finding a solution for the firefighters in the interest of rendering an effective service.

“The Safety and Security Directorate is currently engaging with personnel through their trade unions on the matter in order to reach an amicable resolution,” Bosman said.

“Firefighting is an essential service, and the city would make provision to ensure that there is no impact on service delivery.”

As a backdrop to Friday’s discussions, firefighters tackled a blaze at Mitchells Plain Day Hospital, which started in the operating theatre and destroyed several rooms. Staff and patients were evacuated.

Fire and rescue spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said: “The quick reaction time of the fire crews resulted in the fire being contained to the theatre section of the hospital.”

Weekend Argus

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