Poyntons Building 'death trap' case postponed

2018-10-08 22:52
Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga inspecting Poyntons building in the CBD which was evacuated and shut down after it was found to be unsafe and non compliant. (Supplied)

Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga inspecting Poyntons building in the CBD which was evacuated and shut down after it was found to be unsafe and non compliant. (Supplied)

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WATCH: Correctional Services employees 'fear for their lives' in 'unsafe' head office

2018-10-01 17:17

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union has picketed outside the Department of Correctional Services in Pretoria, saying employees "fear for their lives" when entering the "unsafe" Poyntons Building that houses the department. Watch.WATCH

The court application lodged by 21 Correctional Services employees, who want to stop the department from firing them for refusing to return to their offices at the Poyntons Building in Pretoria, was postponed on Monday.

The employees, who belong to the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), have refused to return to the 32-storey building after it was declared a fire hazard and evacuated last month.

Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga ordered an evacuation of the building on September 12, citing safety concerns. Days later, the department said the City of Tshwane cleared the building for us, but Popcru says in court papers that this is only partly true.

The Popcru employees say the building is still too dangerous to enter and have asked to be allowed to work at another location.

On Monday, the case was postponed unto October 12, when the court will decide whether the Labour Court has jurisdiction to hear the matter. The Department of Correctional Services has argued that it does not.  

The employees approached the court last Thursday on an urgent basis for an order preventing the department from disciplining them for not returning to work. They say they are not on strike and that they simply want to be relocated to another building.

The merits of the case have not yet been heard, pending a ruling on the jurisdiction issue.

In court papers, the 21 workers say the building is a death trap and that the department has done little to address two years' worth of warnings about the dangerous conditions there, including fire hazards, lifts that do not work and poor electrical wiring.

In court papers, the employees say the Tshwane Chief Fire Officer conducted a fire safety inspection in February 2016 and found that the fire insulation system, the sprinkler system, the smoke detectors and fire alarm were not working. Emergency fire escape routes were also obstructed, among other problems. In October that year, the Chief Fire Officer issued the department with a final notice due to non-compliance with fire regulations.

Since then, Popcru says several reports and inspections have shown up the shoddy state of the building, and that only some of them have been seen to.

After the evacuation on September 12, more attempts were made to address the problems. Fire water was connected to the main water feed pipes and an interim fire detection system was installed.

But further measures, such as the installation of fire doors and the installation of lights in the fire escapes, would only have been completed by November 28. The building would only have been compliant by January 2019, Popcru said.

When Gregory Mtsweni, the legal head of department at Popcru, called the City of Tshwane asking for a compliance notice, he was told there was not one, he said in an affidavit.

He added that he was also told the building would not be compliant by December 2018.

Meanwhile, the department has denied the employees' claims and says that, while there are some problems with the building, it is safe to enter and most employees working there have done so.

In its court papers, the department says that the building is "relatively safe", although there may be "insignificant risks" that are "well mitigated".

The department pointed the court to a report by the Department of Public Works from December 2017, which found there to be no signs of "structural distress" at the building, and that it was in a "serviceable condition".

Chief deputy commissioner of human resources Romeo Adams said the department, the owners of the building and the Department of Public Works have embarked on an "urgent" programme to deal with the problems at the building.

He said the application could not be urgent, given that the problem their cited existed since 2016.

Upgrades to the building will cost R32 million, according to the department, and it is considering relocating elsewhere.

A letter from the building's owners, Delta Properties, attached at the court papers, says that more than R900 000 has been spent on maintenance at the building in the last nine months. A maintenance team, including an electrician and plumber, is now stationed there.

The department also pointed out that everyone working in the building, except the 21 Popcru members, have returned to work. This includes more than 1 000 correctional services employees, between 400 and 700 SA National Defence Force workers and 40 employees from the Auditor-General's office.

Adams pointed out that the workers were essential services employees and were not allowed to withhold their labour "under any circumstances".

He added that the workers were given an ultimatum to return to work or face dismissal. Since they refused to do so, they should face immediate dismissal.

However, the workers countered that they were not essential services employees. They were employed as public servants and were not correctional officers.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about the safety of buildings in the Johannesburg and Pretoria CBDs.

In September, three fire fighters died battling a fire at an unsafe Johannesburg building.

TimesLive reported that government employees were evacuated from nine unsafe buildings in September. 

Read more on:    popcru  |  johannesburg

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