Firefighters protest in Cape Town

“We seek nothing other than getting paid for the hours we work,” says union leader

Photo of protesters

Photo: Vincent Lali

By Vincent Lali

26 October 2018

Hundreds of municipal workers marched to the Civic Centre in Cape Town to hand over a memorandum of demands on Thursday. This was not the first protest in the past month by firefighters. Firefighters told GroundUp at the previous protest that they work on 24 hour shifts, or 240 hours a month, but are only paid for 160 hours. Eight hours of each shift is not paid, though they have to stay at the fire station.

On Thursday, the protesting firefighters waved placards that read: “Pay for hours worked”, “Be fair or be fired”, and “Stop exploitation of fire fighters”.

Xolani Diniso, an organiser for the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) shouted, “Down with Richard Bosman [director of the City’s safety and security directorate], forward with benefits of firefighters and overtime pay.”

“We seek nothing other than getting paid for the hours we work,” said Diniso. He also said firefighters did not get paid for overtime when they work at weekends or on public holidays. Diniso said, “We render a crucial service to marginalised communities. If the firefighters don’t get paid, those communities will suffer.”

Diniso called upon the City to employ workers from the Extended Public Works Program on a permanent basis.

Senior firefighter and SAMWU shop steward Shaun Ford said, “We work for 24 hours but the City pays us only for 16 hours. We want the City to respect the basic conditions of employment which says we must be paid for the hours we have worked.”

“The City has been robbing us of our leave. I have 24 leave days per year, but the City pays me for only 12 days,” he said.

South African National Civic Organisation Provincial Secretary, Bongikhaya Qhama, said he backed the municipal workers. “We are with you in this struggle as residents of the Western Cape. You were there when a fire broke out in Khayelitsha and Kosovo informal settlement, so we value your contribution towards saving lives and properties,” he said.

SAMWU shop steward Zolile Mahambi said, “We are not demanding salary increase. All we demand is to be paid for the hours we have worked.”

Xolile Ncayo, regional secretary for SAMWU, said, “A new agreement, which would allow firefighters to be paid for hours they have worked, should be finalised immediately.”

The workers wanted Mayor Patricia de Lille to receive the memorandum. City officials said Richard Bosman could come to collect the memo as De Lille was not available. But Ncayo said, “It would be foolish for us to hand over our memorandum to a person who is the cause of our problems.”

Earnest Sass, Executive Director of Social Development, accepted the memorandum. Sass said he would hand the memo to the City manager.

In September, the City told GroundUp that “negotiations are currently proceeding” and it “cannot comment further until a resolution has been achieved”; and Bosman said, “We are currently engaging with personnel through their trade unions on the matter in order to reach an amicable resolution.”