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Dismissal cloud over firefighters lifted

A disciplinary hearing against firefighters who refused to work a 24 hour shift in October 2019 has been concluded and now their working conditions are being negotiated at the Bargaining Council. PICTURE: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

A disciplinary hearing against firefighters who refused to work a 24 hour shift in October 2019 has been concluded and now their working conditions are being negotiated at the Bargaining Council. PICTURE: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 3, 2021

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Firefighters who faced possible mass dismissal after a dispute over working hours are engaged in negotiations for a new contract to improve their working conditions.

The move follows the conclusion of a disciplinary process against the workers which slapped them with a few days suspension without pay.

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Three shop stewards, belonging to the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) were also issued with final written warnings, valid for 12 months.

At least 525 workers faced charges of misconduct related to an illegal strike in October 2019, while three shop stewards faced additional charges of incitement.

A disciplinary hearing against firefighters who refused to work a 24 hour shift in October 2019 has been concluded and now their working conditions are being negotiated at the Bargaining Council. PICTURE: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

The workers wanted the City to change the pre-1994 Fire Services Agreement which made them work a 24 hour shift.

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They said 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.

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 negotiations on a new contract were underway at the Bargaining Council.

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"As a union we decided to plead guilty to one charge as we wanted to bring the matter to a close. We have lost a few members due to Covid -19, some had already entered into a plea bargain with the City and only 52 were left facing the disciplinary process. We could no longer have workers with a dark cloud hanging over them," said Kumalo.

He expressed hope that an agreement on a new contract that would lead to normal working hours as stipulated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act would be reached.

"We need to find common ground and a settlement that will eventually lead to job creation as well as safety and well-being of workers," Kumalo said.

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City spokesperson, Luthando Tyhalibongo confirmed that the 52 firefighters were issued with penalties.

During the disciplinary hearing the union pleaded guilty to the charge of not working the 24 hour shift on October 1, 2019.

The City called for the dismissal of the workers on the grounds that their action could be construed as gross misconduct with consequences on communities.

"Based on the draft court order agreement the employees immediately returned to work as required. It is with this explanation and the evidence and arguments that are adjudicated that I do not believe that these members should be dismissed for misconduct," the chairperson said.

He also said the disciplinary code indicated that discipline should be corrective rather than punitive.

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