EWN Special Report sparks probe into plight of firefighters

EWN revealed that firefighters face appalling working conditions & lack vital equipment.

Marako Daniel Motsoeneng, was joined by firefighters from the greater Johannesburg area to find solutions to their dire working conditions on 11 June 2015. Picture: Louise McAuliffe/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Labour on Thursday said it's now investigating the plight of firefighters after an Eyewitness News special report found that many had complained of appalling working conditions.

Initially, seven firefighters came forward claiming they face a lack of vital equipment including stations that don't have working toilets, and poor support from management.

At least 50 firefighters then came forward at a bargaining council meeting on Thursday morning calling on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) management to address, what they've called, a gross violation of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

This has been strongly denied by EMS management.

The Gauteng Labour Department said it could issue individual station management with a notice to close their doors if they are in contravention of occupational health regulations.

Provincial Labour Chief Director Kenny Fick said investigators will work with unions and firefighters.

"I have already directed the head of our Inspection Unit to put together a programme of doing these investigations at all the fire stations."

He said he is aware that the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) reported workers' concerns in 2008.

"I don't have a record of firemen complaints. I recall the union making this request many years ago."

Fick said firefighters will not be victimised if they report appalling working conditions to the department.

At the same time, while Imatu said it's made many attempts to ask the Labour Department to investigate the poor working conditions in fire stations across Johannesburg, but said the dire situation has been ignored for seven years.

The department said it's tracking down the records of the 2008 probe.

Fick however said it has done various inspections since then.

"We've done at various fire stations. We found some areas of concern and we've informed the management of the fire stations. We've requested that they make alterations or renovations or corrections where necessary."

PREVIOUS PROBE

In a letter written by Imatu in 2009, the union states that the Labour Department recognised that the situation at various fire stations was 'critical' and that the department could 'justify closing 80 percent of the stations with immediate effect', to revamp and repair them.

In 2008, Imatu claimed to government that 90 percent of the city's fire stations were understaffed, safety checks in terms of equipment had been ignored and firefighters were being forced to share personal equipment, like masks.

Imatu's Mark Gericke said since then, the situation has only worsened.

"Firefighters don't have enough hoses or ropes, they're having to use their own cellphones."

The union has requested a meeting with the Labour Department, demanding a discussion of its latest report and possible interventions.