'Underpaid, but still proud' - Cape Town firefighters hand over memorandum

2018-10-19 14:50
Around 100 off-duty firefighters who gathered at the Cape Town Civic Centre this week have pleaded for the City to hear their grievances about a standby allowance and working conditions. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Around 100 off-duty firefighters who gathered at the Cape Town Civic Centre this week have pleaded for the City to hear their grievances about a standby allowance and working conditions. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Around 100 off-duty firefighters who gathered at the Cape Town Civic Centre this week have pleaded for the City to hear their grievances about a standby allowance and working conditions.

With security already tight at the centre because of the MyCiTi bus strike, a few representatives were eventually let in to hand over a memorandum on Thursday.

The City later confirmed that safety and security director Richard Bosman had received it.

The group held up various placards, including one that read "Underpaid but still proud firefighter".

They said they were not asking for wage increases, but to be paid fairly for all their hours worked.

News24 previously reported that the City's fire and rescue service was taking strain, as the labour dispute deepens and officials play a juggling game to ensure there is enough capacity across the 30 stations.

Over the past few months, officials have been battling it out with the two unions representing firefighters - the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu).

Nearly all members of Samwu are said to be boycotting voluntary overtime hours, in protest over the amount they get paid while on "standby".

'Standby hours'

Under contention are 80 of the 240 hours that firefighters work, which are classified as "standby" hours, but which firefighters feel are equivalent to working normal hours.

Bosman refers to this period as "down time", and operational staff thus get paid a 22.8% allowance in terms of the collective agreement.

But firefighters say that this is not "standby", as they are stuck at their workplace, rather than at home with their families.

They also stress that they only receive this allowance - and not a salary - for work on Sundays and public holidays.

Other issues on the table include a R170 monthly meal allowance, policies on acting allowances, and career advancements.

The union officially informed the City that it would be withdrawing, as of November 5, from a collective agreement that determines working conditions to enable a 24-hour service.

The last collective agreement with unions was renewed in 2007 for three years. Since lapsing, it has been renewed every year, pending a new agreement between the parties.

The matter has now been declared a formal dispute, and will go before the Bargaining Council at the end of this month for conciliation.

'All we are asking for is fair remuneration'

On Thursday, numerous seasoned firefighters, who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, said that the collective agreement was outdated and reflective of an economy that no longer existed in 2018.

"It has been in place for the last 20 years, but times have changed, prices have changed and inflation has increased," one firefighter said.

"All we are asking for is fair remuneration, within the parameters of the law."

Bosman previously said: "It is important to note that the terms of the collective agreement have been the standard in the City of Cape Town for many years, and these terms are similar to what is in place in a number of other countries."

Another firefighter said it pained him that the City considered his efforts between 21:00 and 09:00 to be "standby", and not normal work.

"The City says we are not working, but when I am on leave. I must apply for the full 24 hours off. They must decide, are we at work or on standby?"

After the memorandum was handed over, Strand firefighter Leroy Cloete told the singing and dancing crowd that the city manager was not available and that they would have to set up an appointment. He was told that their grievances would be seen by the right people, including the mayor.

Cloete assured City residents that firefighters would still protect them during the dispute.

"We will always have maximum cover and never neglect the community and ratepayers."

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