Firefighters turn up the heat

2013-03-23 00:00

FIREFIGHTERS in Pietermaritzburg are spitting fire over a salary dispute and have threatened to stop working night shifts and weekends.

They have given Msunduzi Municipality 48 hours to respond to their grievances, and included a demand to have the fire department’s managers sacked.

But management said their staff knew certain salary cuts would be implemented in exchange for other benefits.

If the firefighters act on their threats, it could hamper operations at Pietermaritzburg (Oribi) Airport, which must have firefighters on site.

And even though they cannot strike in terms of regulations governing essential services, the firefighters insisted they were prepared to follow through with their warnings.

Yesterday, off-duty members gathered at their headquarters in town.

They told Weekend Witness about 120 of them, working in Edendale, Oribi, at headquarters and Pietermaritzburg Airport, received smaller salaries last month.

They claimed they would no longer work overtime, weekends and during their lunchtime because they weren’t being paid for the additional hours.

“Nobody wants to work without getting pay,” said one firefighter.

At the centre of the dispute is a collective bargaining agreement, which was signed in July 2011 and only implemented in January.

The firefighters claim only certain sections of the agreement are being applied and as a result they are losing out on allowance pay.

One firefighter said their salaries keep on getting cut every two to three months. “The last straw was last month when I lost about R6 000 of my salary and the worst thing is we were never consulted about this.”

Firefighters called on the municipality to intervene. “We also want the municipal manager to get rid of the fire department management and human resources for failing to interpret the collective bargaining agreement correctly,” said one.

Firefighters said in terms of the agreement they were supposed to work 45-hour shifts per week and any additional hours attracted overtime pay.

“We work 48 hours per week, so we should be paid for the extra three hours,” said the same firefighter.

The stand-off has got Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) worried.

CEO Melanie Veness said: “If firefighters were to withhold services on the weekend, the PCB’s only concern would be around service delivery, particularly at the airport. The municipal manager has, however, allayed those concerns, by assuring me that there are contingency plans in place should firefighters not work over the weekend.”

Senior divisional officer in charge of operations at the fire department, Essack Khan, said they were implementing what was agreed by the South African Local Government Association and various stakeholders which stipulate that night shift allowance will be cut to 11% from 20%.

“Our workers should have known that this agreement was going to be taking some of their benefits away, while they would be enjoying other benefits,” said Khan.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said he had not received any grievances.

“They need to forward their grievances to me so that we can urgently try to resolve the problem,” he said.

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