Fire fighters fight a fire at Rhodes Memorial. File: Michael Walker
Cape Town - Firefighters who refuse to work overtime will face disciplinary action by the City of Cape Town.

As the summer fire season approaches, the battle between the City and its fire department is raging on, with firefighters saying they will refuse to work any overtime until they are paid fairly for those extra hours.

The SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu), representing the firefighters, sent a formal complaint to the national labour department and asked it to appoint a labour inspector to investigate the City of Cape Town, and possibly issue a compliance order.

Over 2 000 people have signed an online petition supporting the firefighters.

Earlier this week, the city’s acting executive director for Safety and Security, Wayne le Roux, said the labour dispute with the firefighting services has been deadlocked for years, with no agreement in sight.

“For several years the parties have engaged in unsuccessful on-off negotiations in an attempt to conclude a new collective agreement regarding the work hours of fire personnel,” Le Roux said.

“The city’s offer of an increased allowance of 30% (based on the parameters recommended by an arbitrator) was rejected by the unions.”

In February, the parties met for arbitration, but Samwu pulled out in order to refer the dispute to the Labour Court, Le Roux said. To date the case had not been brought to the court.

“If Samwu is indeed of the view that its legal arguments are well founded, then it must follow the appropriate legal route. It should not be encouraging members to face the risk of dismissal by breaching their employment contracts,” Le Roux said.

In a letter from law firm Bradley Conradie Halton Cheadle, representing the City of Cape Town, Samwu’s lawyers were told that union members would face retaliation for not working overtime.

“Having failed to approach the Labour Court, Samwu - to our client’s surprise - now announces on the eve of the 2019/2020 fire season that its members will simply refuse to report for duty to work more than 40 hours per week,” the letter reads.

“Your client’s members are required to work as per the agreed shifts. If they unilaterally fail to work those hours, then they will face discipline.”

Samwu hit back through its legal representatives Macgregor Erasmus Attorneys.

“In the absence of a collective agreement, our client’s members have in good faith, in the interest of service delivery, continued to work 240 hours a month,” a letter from the firm reads.

“However, from the start of October, they will only be working the 40 hours per week for which they are fully paid - either in standard Monday to Friday office hours, or in a shift roster - whichever the city prefers.

“Your client has sufficient time to put the necessary in place. Instructing our clients to work the additional hours and making it clear that the city will persist in failing to pay them in terms of the city’s overtime policies, is not a reasonable instruction.”

In Johannesburg, 231 firefighters were suspended for refusing to work overtime.

Weekend Argus