Cape firefighters fear mass dismissals
Cape Town - More than 500 firefighters in the Western Cape could face dismissal after disciplinary procedures were instituted this week, two years after a dispute over working hours.
A large group of workers gathered outside the Civic Hall on Tuesday in solidarity with those appearing before a disciplinary hearing.
They also demanded that Mayor Dan Plato intervene in the long-standing dispute.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) said some of the 525 workers faced charges for participating in an illegal strike while another faced an additional one of incitement.
The disciplinary action stemmed from 2019 when the union decided it would no longer work a 56-hour week as part of the pre-1994 Fire Services Agreement.
In terms of the agreement, workers were also given an allowance pay of 22.8%.
However, they claimed that the long working hours had a detrimental effect on their well-being and were not in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and international best practice.
Workers at the time also demanded that they be paid overtime for hours worked after 4.30pm.
The City took the matter to the Labour Court which ruled that in the absence of a new agreement , the existing one was valid but also urged the parties to enter into negotiations towards establishing a new one.
Samwu regional secretary Mikel Kumalo said despite attempts to engage management to enter into negotiations on a new agreement through collective bargaining, the efforts had failed.
Kumalo said a new agreement would have to take into consideration the safety and well-being of firefighters while creating space for more staff to be employed.
In a city frequently hit by disasters, firefighters had to respond under harsh conditions to emergencies to protect lives and the safety of the population.
But the union warned that if the matter was not resolved, fire services could be disrupted.
"It is not our intention to disrupt the service but if this long standing grievance is not resolved amicably there is potential that the Fire Service will be disrupted," a statement by the union said.
Kumalo said the workers would march on the Democratic Alliance (DA) offices soon as they regarded the party, which runs the municipality, of defending an "apartheid" policy.
"The charges are nothing but an attempt to instil fear among the workers and to dissuade them from demanding better working conditions. The workers are still working long hours which compromise their safety and management is reluctant to change the agreement," Kumalo said.
He added that the agreement was more beneficial to management who also were paid the 22.8% allowance.
Kumalo warned that dismissals would affect hundreds of families and was not an ideal way to handle the matter in a Covid-19 climate which had led to job losses.
Kumalo also voiced concern that those facing charges would not be able to be represented by shop stewards as they did not have access to online technology.
City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said disciplinary action against any employee of the City was an internal matter.
"The current shift agreement, to which Samwu are a signatory, has been declared valid and binding in terms of a Labour Court judgment and remains in force until a new agreement is negotiated between the parties," Tyhalibongo said, adding that it would be "unfortunate if some within the Fire Services resorted to service disruptions instead of following due process in terms of the Disciplinary Code".