Court to decide on firefighters’ dispute

Firefighters will hear their fate at the end of next month when the Labour Court rules in the standby allowance dispute with the City of Cape Town. Pictured is Ottery Fire Station.

The Labour Court will rule on the wage dispute over standby allowances between the City of Cape Town and Cape Town firefighters at the end of November.

The matter involving firefighters who are part of the union South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU), the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) and non-unionised members will be deliberated on by Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker on Friday November 29 after an interdict was granted by the Labour Court forcing them to go back to working 24-hour shifts.

From Tuesday October 1 about 80% of firefighters clocked in at 8.30am and clocked out at 4.30pm, refusing to work their normal 24-hour shifts because of the ongoing allowance disputes, leaving fire stations under-staffed and manned by trainees.

Samwu representative Archie Hearn, however, said only about 40 trainees agreed to work after-hours shifts because they were not covered for injuries on duty outside their contractual hours of 7am to 4pm.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, workers at the Ottery Fire station said they had been forced, through scare tactics, threats and suspensions to start working 24-hour shifts again, from Tuesday October 8.

One of the workers said they were within their rights to only work eight hour shifts because there had not been an agreement about the standby allowances since 2010.

“We did as our contracts stipulated and worked according to the basic conditions of employment of 40 hours a week. The City cannot prove that there was any agreement after that because there wasn’t any and there was no agreement to go back to 24-hour shifts. We were forced with an interdict.

“Money is an emotional issue because it’s our bread and butter and that is why we decided to do what we did and take a stand and to show the City how serious we were about the matter. Officers were then suspended for incitement but that was a ploy to take down the main vocal guys and weaken our voice. That, however, did not stop us because many of the officers felt the same way about the issue.

“We are happy that the case is being heard before a judge because it means our cause will be heard after so many years of back and forth. I know there will be a positive outcome for us at the end of November because we were working according to the law,” he said.

Mr Hearn concurred that no agreement had been reached and the matter would be resolved in court, adding that, should they lose the matter in court, firefighters would accept the court’s ruling.

Another firefighter said he was relieved to be back on the 24-hour shift: “We want to serve the community on a 24-hour basis because that is our first priority. We are, however, disappointed
in our employer. The City is
doing us in and not paying us what we deserve. We work long hours and put our lives at risk but we are not being compensated for it.

“If the court ruled against us and the City keeps doing this injustice to us then I will be forced to leave firefighting because I will not risk my life for peanuts any longer,” he said.

The City has agreed to lift the suspensions of 26 firefighters, but the employees will still face disciplinary action after the court case.

Richard Bosman, the executive director for safety and security, said all parties were required to file their heads of argument in preparation for the hearing.

“The City of Cape Town remains committed to resolving the ongoing dispute as speedily as the legal process allows, so that we can move forward. We would also like to express our sincere thanks to those firefighters and volunteers who have helped us to keep the service going over the past week, in spite of the challenges,” he said.

Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith, said: “The court has plotted the way forward, and I encourage everyone to abide by it. I also trust that all parties will abide by the final court ruling when it is made, so that we can return the focus to firefight-
ing and saving lives without the threat of sporadic industrial
action in this very essential service.”