City of Joburg doesn't care about us - firefighters

2015-07-22 17:13
(Adam Wakefield, News24)

(Adam Wakefield, News24)

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Johannesburg - The City of Johannesburg does not care about its firefighters given how it had responded to their grievances, a spokesperson for the firefighters said on Wednesday.

Dan Motsoeneng, a firefighter based at the Turffontein Fire Station, told News24 they had a service agreement with the city that stipulated firefighters were expected to work 40 hours a week. But since they were classed as an essential service, they worked for 48 hours a week.

"That simply means that by working 40 hours, like we are doing right now, we are not wrong, because that is according to our contract of employment," he said.

"Due to the nature of our business, emergency management services that should be provided 24/7, 365, then we have to work those extra hours, but now that can only happen if there is an agreement."

All they sought was an agreement with the city where firefighters were paid for the extra hours they worked, he said.

Motsoeneng was speaking at the Labour Court in Johannesburg where the city was granted an interim interdict preventing firefighters from leaving work at 16:00.

City says firefighters on a 'go slow'

On Monday, city emergency management spokesperson, Robert Mulaudzi, said firefighters were on a "go slow", demanding overtime for the extra two hours they worked per day.

In the meantime, in the hours that they didn't work, staff who were normally station-bound - such as station commanders, supervisors and managers - were responding to call-outs.

Mulaudzi said firefighters normally worked 48 hours a week, with four-day shifts of two days on and two days off. To make up the 48 hours, they worked an extra two hours a day.

However, they wanted to be paid for those extra hours, and were currently only prepared to put in 40 hours a week, unless they were paid overtime for the extra hours, he said.

The dispute had been discussed in a bargaining council and had been referred for arbitration, Mulaudzi said.

Motsoeneng said the Basic Conditions of Employment Act stated any hours that were put in beyond the normal hours of work should be regarded as overtime.

"It's logical that if you are supposed to be working 40 hours and then they say you must work 48 hours, then it means those eight hours should be regarded as overtime," he said.

"I just don't understand what the bone of contention is here, between ourselves and the employer."

The firefighters did not agree with the city's decision to approach the court for the interdict, as it should have dealt with their grievances in the boardroom.

Grievance stretches back to 2001

The dispute dated back to 2001 when firefighters had engaged with management informally on a number of occasions. 

It reached a point where they wanted their engagements formalised, and they followed the city's internal dispute mechanism to address their grievances.

"We followed all the steps up until the city manager's level, with the same grievance, and you know what happened? At the city manager level, the employer acknowledged, 'Yes, indeed we are wrong'," Motsoeneng said.

"We said 'OK', but now they said the matter should be referred to the bargaining council, that is the only forum that can deal with this, and we reached an agreement.

"At conciliation, things hit a snag. The employer could not move, did not budge, but remember the employer acknowledged in the past that they agreed with us, that they agree in total with what we are saying."

Conciliation was the last step, which led to firefighters deciding to adopt their current stance. 

"This is not a strike. We are working according to our contract of employment... We understand the matter has been referred to arbitration, which will be the final step, I believe," he said.

"They come with all sort of terms regarding our action. 'It's a strike', 'It's a go slow'. Every term in the book that will justify a strike, but we are saying it is not a strike, prove me wrong. We are following our contract." 

On Monday afternoon after the interim interdict was granted, the city's Mulaudzi said it was happy the court had stopped firefighters from engaging in an illegal strike.

“In the process, they made sure that the firefighters will render a service to the city. There is no winner or loser here. The court protected the right of citizens to receive an emergency service on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Read more on:    city of johannesburg  |  johannesburg  |  strikes

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