South Africa

BURNING ISSUE

Cape Town firefighters threaten to down hoses after hours

Firefighters marchers outside the Civic Centre on 26 September 2019. (Photo: Karabo Mafolo)

About 60 Cape Town firefighters staged a protest march on Thursday over not being paid overtime, handing over a memorandum to Parliament and threatening to refuse to work outside normal shift hours if their demands were not met.

Thursday’s firefighters’ march ended up at Parliament and was similar to a previous march to the Cape Town Civic Centre a year ago, with the same demand – that the City of Cape Town compensate them for working overtime.

We’re rendering a very critical service to the city of Cape Town residents. We can’t be called essential workers but, at the end of the month, we’re not getting paid well,” said Xolani Diniso, a South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) official.

The basic conditions of employment is clear that if any worker works an extra hour or an extra minute out of his contractual obligations he or she must get overtime pay,” Diniso told the marchers. The reason firefighters are back in the streets is because last year’s negotiations were called off, said Diniso.

The employers were negotiating in bad faith,” he told Daily Maverick, adding: “We’re not here to beg, we’re here to demand what’s rightfully ours.”

Robert Sonne, who’s been fighting fires for the City of Cape Town for 23 years, said: “There was an agreement with the municipality that we’d work different hours to other city workers. But that agreement lapsed in 2010, so we’d like to revert to the basic conditions of service.” Sonne further explained: “They pay us an allowance for overtime; they’re only giving us 22.8 % of our salary. We don’t want that anymore.”

In a statement, the City of Cape Town, said: “When the agreement came to an end in 2010 the parties (the City, Imatu and Samwu) agreed that the agreement continued in force and effect until a new agreement was negotiated. When negotiations to review the collective agreement started, the City offered to increase the standby allowance to 30%, but this was rejected.”

Marchers carried placards saying “pay us what you owe us” and “stop exploiting us” and sand songs echoing those sentiments. The group initially went to the Civic Centre, where Joe Barnes, the City of Cape Town’s safety and security directorate member was ready to accept the memorandum on behalf of City Manager Lungelo Mbandazayo. However, the firefighters refused to deal with Barnes as their situation had not changed after the 2018 memorandum was handed to another municipal official.

Last time they sent another paper-pusher called Ernest Sass (executive director: social development and early childhood development). We’re here today without any positive results from the previous march because we delivered our papers to Ernest Sass. I think we shouldn’t make the same mistake,” said Samwu regional secretary Xolile Ncayo. The group then made its way to Parliament, intending to deliver the memorandum to Minister of Labour and Employment Thulas Nxesi.

At Parliament, Nxesi’s parliamentary officer Thando Wababa apologised for the minister’s absence. “There was a breakdown of communication so he did not know you’d be here. However, the minister is attending the Nedlac summit in Johannesburg and I’ll be receiving the memorandum on his behalf,” said Wababa. Samwu shop steward Zolile Mahambi then announced that if the demands were not met by Tuesday 1 October the firefighters would refuse to work overtime.

The city is exploiting the firefighters,” said Shaun Ford, who has been one for more than 20 years. “We work on average a 56-hour week and we’re not being paid for the additional hours. All we’re asking is that the city pays us overtime.

We want to be paid for the work that we do. It’s not that we’re refusing to work, we’re saying that we’re tired of being exploited,” Ford told Daily Maverick.

The city is in breach of the basic conditions of employment and they know it,” continued Ford. “The city also doesn’t want to bargain with us, they just want to threaten us with lawyers. But what we’re saying is that from the first (of next month), if they’re not willing to pay us for the additional hours then we’re just going to work normal hours.”

Let me make it clear: we’re not here for an increase,” said Mahambi. “We’re here to demand what is due to us. We’re hoping that in the next two days (Friday 27 September and Monday 30 September) the city will see that we’re very serious.” DM

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