SCORES of South African firefighters facing possible dismissal and or disciplinary action marched on the City of Cape Town offices on Saturday in support of demands for better working conditions.
The march, which also commemorated International Workers’ Day, brought traffic to a halt on some of the city’s busiest streets as the workers also made their way to the Democratic Alliance offices.
The firefighters were joined by other workers whose job contracts with the City have been terminated.
They demanded that Mayor Dan Plato receive a memorandum of demands which called for better working conditions and remuneration in line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCOEA).
However, they were met by City officials who received the documents on Plato’s behalf.
About 525 firefighters are facing disciplinary action after a dispute over long working hours.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) says 439 of the firefighters face charges of participating in an illegal strike in 2019, while 55 face an additional charge of incitement.
In 2019, union members decided they would no longer work a 56 hour week as part of the pre-1994 Fire Services Agreement, an action which the Labour Court later ruled was illegal.
SAMWU regional organiser Archie Hearne said the City was reluctant to negotiate a new agreement which would see working hours reduced to 40 a week, and overtime paid according to the City’s policy and in line with the Act.
‘Even though the firefighters are receiving a 22.8% allowance, this is also extended to managers who are not on the frontline. Some metros offer a far better allowance to their firefighters.
‘But what we want now is an eight hour working shift and any extra hours worked will have to be compensated for using what the Act and the City’s Overtime Policy allows for,’ Hearne said.
He added that an eight hour shift would improve workers’ well-being and ensure that more unemployed people would also get jobs.
‘Some of the workers have years of experience but their contribution is not being recognised by the City,’ Hearne said.
They are also demanding a danger allowance.
The workers also marched on the governing Democratic Alliance offices in Mill Street, Gardens, halting traffic on the busy street.
The union called on the governing party to intervene or face the risk of losing votes in the upcoming local government elections on October 27.
‘If the DA doesn’t intervene they face the risk of losing votes. We will punish the party at the polls,’ the union said.
However, no one was at the office to accept the memorandum.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s unemployment rate is at an all time high, with 7.2 million without jobs.
Last Saturday May 1st, workers around the world observed Workers’ Day, known as Labour Day in most countries, and referred to as May Day in South Africa.
It is observed to celebrate the achievements of the workers and to spread awareness about the exploitation that they face.
The day was born out of the struggle for workers’ rights and social justice in the 1800s.
The fight for a shorter workday was the main focus.
On 7th October 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions in the United States and Canada decided that eight hours should constitute a legal day’s labour as of 1st May 1886.
It has been celebrated as a holiday in many countries since 1891.
In South Africa, the day has been officially recognised and observed since the 1994 democratic elections.
Organised labour planned various activities across the world to observe the day and South Africa’s biggest labour federation, COSATU (Confederation of South African Trades Unions) held a virtual programme and live stream of the event to its members on digital platforms.
ANC (African National Congress) President, Cyril Ramaphosa, and SACP (South African Communist Party) General Secretary, Blade Nzimande delivered messages of solidarity to the their parties’ alliance partner.
This year marks the second Workers’ Day commemoration since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year’s May Day came at the height of the total economic shutdown. The aim was to limit the spread of the pandemic and it led to massive job losses.
Lockdown restrictions have since been relaxed, and that has largely allowed for a resumption of economic activity. But the International Labour Organisation (IOL) says, unfortunately, job creation is yet to recover in a significant way.
According to Statistics SA, more than seven million South Africans are without jobs. This means 32.5% of the country’s citizens are unemployed.
- The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says opposition MDC-T (Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai) legislators, who last week voted in support of Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2, are sell-outs.
The proposed law seeks to, among other things, strike off the presidential running mate clause in the constitution as well as empower the President to promote sitting judges of the High Court and Supreme Court without going through any public interviews as is currently the case.
The law also seeks to provide judges of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts an option of extended tenure beyond the retirement age of 70 while also broadening the president’s scope to appoint non-parliamentary ministers.
The attempt to patch up the 2013 national Constitution has also been widely criticised as an attempt by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to safeguard his political interests beyond the 2023 elections.
Critics are angered government is investing a lot of energy and resources on a law that does not seek to have any positive impact on the lives of ordinary citizens while there is no equal display of zeal to align existing laws with the national charter.
But while the ruling part Zanu PF could be excused for pushing a law tailored at tightening its stranglehold on national politics, it is the opposition that has come under fire for being willing participants to perceived enemy machinations.
ZCTU president Peter Mutasa at a press conference last Thursday said: ‘The 2013 Constitution came through a long process that includes consultation with the citizens.
‘So, anyone who has been appointed or elected by the citizens and who sits in the Senate or House of Assembly and does not realise the need for consultation before the Constitution is amended, there is no other characterisation of that person; they are sell-outs.
‘They are the Morrison Nyathi of the liberation struggle and they are everywhere.
‘So, we must be very clear as citizens that we are not going to side with those that are not siding with us. That has to be open.
‘And I am sure you have seen some of them trying to come out after citizens raised their voices.
‘So, we need also to raise our voices against those who are mutilating the people’s Constitution.
‘It is expected, there has never been any struggle without its turncoats, without its sell-outs, but what we can pronounce openly is that those people are selling out.’
Mutasa added: ‘There is another point we need to urgently deal with. Many people across the country are not aware of what is happening in the citadel of dictatorship in Harare, in the Parliament which is no longer honourable.
‘We need to spread this message in language that people understand and it is a collective responsibility.
‘It is only when people are informed, empowered and understand what is happening and when we get everyone standing up fighting for their rights.
‘So, we need to fight against this amendment and use all our organisations, all our resources that we have.
‘In fighting, you are going to get many reprisals, we are going to face many challenges, what is going to make sure that this amendment, what is going to make sure that we succeed, is the solidarity which must be the goal that unites us.’
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said on Saturday that workers have no reason to commemorate this year’s Workers Day because of the deteriorating economic situation in the country that has left them in the streets.
ZCTU western region chairman Ambrose Sibindi said continued job losses, ill treatment by employers, poor remuneration and economic challenges have left employees with no incentive to commemorate Workers Day.
He said: ‘Honestly, there is nothing to celebrate … We are just doing it out of respect. Most of the workers are earning a paltry $10,000, which is a disgrace. This shows that workers are in a very difficult situation.’
Sibindi said in Bulawayo, due to Covid-19, many companies have closed down and as a result, many workers have lost their jobs.
‘Those who are working hardly get their salaries and some can even go for three months without being paid.’
Sibindi continued: ‘‘The workers are told that the economy is bad, workers are harassed every day, especially the vendors who do not have proper places to work from, so I don’t see what they have to celebrate.’