Cape firefighters threaten DA to intervene in dispute or face losing votes
Cape Town - The City of Cape Town’s firefighters have taken their dispute with the municipality to the doorstep of the DA – threatening the party to intervene or face losing votes.
The action came as the City told 439 of the firefighters that if they pleaded guilty to the charges they faced for “striking illegally” in 2019, they would avoid disciplinary action.
In addition, they would be slapped with a final written warning valid for 12 months and four days' suspension without pay.
In a march to the DA offices on Saturday, the party was told to intervene or face being punished at the polls in the upcoming local government elections on October 27.
“We have compromised enough with the City and have been urging them to engage with the union. We are now calling on the governing party that controls the City's officials to intervene otherwise they will be bruised at the polls,” SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) regional organiser, Archie Hearne, said.
Acting executive director for safety and security Vincent Boto told the workers, who were called to a meeting at the Green Point stadium, that the City had told the workers' unions that “the 439 staff members who were on a illegal strike action are required to plead guilty to the charge and accept the sanction of a final written warning valid for 12 months and four days' suspension without pay. This also applies to the new firefighter recruits. This will resolve the dispute”.
However, the other 55 firefighters would be subjected to a disciplinary possess and the City would abide by the outcome of that process.
Boto said there was a deadline attached to the offer and the workers needed to make a decision based on “a personal choice, individual view” as they faced different personal circumstances.
Boto was booed by some of those who attended the meeting.
Although the City would not divulge details of the “offer” made to the workers, the Weekend Argus received an audio clip of the meeting.
Samwu described the move as an “apartheid tactic” which sought to undermine the union and collective bargaining.
“We believe that some of the firefighters were coerced or intimidated into accepting a plea agreement with empty promises. The union was not invited to the meeting. We are perturbed by the City's attempt to bash and undermine the union. This tactic of divide and rule was used under apartheid,” said Hearne.
In 2019, the firefighters took a decision that they would no longer work a 56-hour week as part of the existing Fire Services Agreement reached between workers' unions and the City before 1994 and the introduction of new labour laws.
In terms of the agreement, workers were also given an allowance pay of 22.8 %.
However, Samwu wanted a new 8-hour per day agreement, saying the long working hours had a detrimental effect on the well-being of their members and were not in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and international best practice.
“Allowing firefighters to work a full 24 hour shift is an unhealthy and unsafe practice detrimental to their operations,” Hearne said.
Other demands included:
* an overtime rate in line with the City's overtime policy
* payment of danger and scarce skills allowances *advancement of staff to higher positions
* provision of ablution facilities at prolonged emergency scenes
* payment of night shift and shift allowance as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and
* assistance or subsidy with medical aid upon retirement
Hearne said in terms of the Bargaining Council procedures, the union submitted its proposal regarding a new agreement in December 2020 and the City had yet to respond.
“We are now going to declare a mutual interest matter to the Bargaining Council to force it to come to the table.”
The City acknowledged in a statement issued on Thursday that a proposal had been made to resolve the matter in respect of 439 firefighters “so that any possible sanction of dismissal can be avoided”.
However, it said no further details would be divulged.
Mayco member for safety JP Smith said the City was willing and ready to review the “collective agreement” on the working conditions.
However, Samwu regional secretary Mikel Kumalo rejected the claim, saying the workers were being “punished” for demanding what was “fair and in line with the Act”.
He said the current “apartheid” agreement benefited senior managers “to the tune of between R12 000 and R20 00” per month on the standby allowance in addition to “huge salaries”.
Kumalo said some of the firefighters earned between R2 000 and R6 000 for working 240 hours per month and only got 12 days annual leave and 2.5 days for family responsibility.
But according to Smith's statement firefighters worked on average, 7.5 hours more per month than other City employees.
He said the current salary rates ranged between R52.28 and R152.96 an hour, depending on rank and seniority.
Hearne said other metros paid a far higher allowance.