Johannesburg firefighters vowed to continue their industrial action – which it refused to call a strike – and accused the City of Joburg of breaking the law by allowing under-skilled staff to carry out emergency services.
The industrial action comes after the suspension of 231 firefighters for taking part in the action.
The emergency workers’ union Demawusa claimed the suspended members included staff with specialised skills, which the city could not possibly cope without.
The union said it believed the city’s failure to heed emergency regulations is what had caused the deaths of three firefighters in the tragic Bank of Lisbon fire last year.
The union’s regional secretary, Terrence Gafe, said however that “firefighters are not on strike”.
“Firefighters are reporting for duty. … But when they are getting [an emergency] call, they are only waiting for a qualified person that can drive with them to that particular point – it’s as simple as that,” Gafe said.
However, Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said that regardless of the dispute between the union and the employer, the firefighters were, under law, engaged in an illegal strike.
“They are [therefore] suspended for refusal to carry out a lawful instruction and also [for] participating in an unprotected or illegal strike.”
Mulaudzi said EMS personnel fall under essential services, and according to the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 they were not allowed to participate in such protest actions.
“We have contingency plans in place to make sure that all our services are not affected and all our fire stations are operating fully, while a disciplinary process is under way, as we have a responsibility to render effective professional emergency services at all times to all residents of the City of Johannesburg, without disruptions,” Mulaudzi said.
Meanwhile, Gafe said workers felt that the continuous loss of lives, and complaints from doctors receiving patients from emergency vehicles, pointed to a crisis of untrained skilled personnel, which required urgent attention.
The union said City of Johannesburg firefighters and station managers were under-trained an underqualified, and then unfairly held to account when things went wrong.