Minister of Environmental Affairs welcomes CCMA decision regarding Working on Fire wage negotiations
06 July 2018
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, has welcomed the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) determination that the Department of Environmental Affairs and its internationally acclaimed Working on Fire programme cannot bargain with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) on wages and conditions of service.
Working on Fire is part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) that has been in existence since 2003. Participants in all EPWP programmes are remunerated in line with guidelines for Employment and Conditions of Work for EPWP Programmes.
The CCMA heard in submissions that the Department and its implementing partner, WoF (PTY) LTD was not able to deviate from the EPWP Norms and Standards. This has been confirmed by the CCMA.
In its ruling the CCMA ruled that no improvement to current wage levels and conditions of service, as proposed by NUMSA, be implemented by Working on Fire. The wage levels and terms and conditions of employment currently in place for the period 1 April to 31 March 2019 stand. The award was made on 29 June 2018.
Importantly, the ruling stated that aceding to NUMSA’s demands would result in WoF having to “terminate the service of 677 firefighters, which is approximately the size of WoF in KZN.. the extent of the impact would be tantamount to closing 27 bases”.
This matter has its origins in the deployment of 301 WoF firefighters to Canada in May 2016 when they were approached by the Canadian government to assist with battling wildfires in the province of Alberta as part of a resource sharing agreement.
Despite the deployment being an overwhelming success, incorrect information was circulated in the public space regarding the terms under which the firefighters were deployed: which subsequently gave rise to claims by NUMSA that the firefighters were being exploited.
In 2017 NUMSA lodged a dispute with the CCMA: requesting that Working on Fire (and the Department as a joined party) award Wof participants a 12% increase in stipends over and above the current daily rates. The union had also demanded additional payments for call outs and standby allowances.
“This ruling is a vindication of the Department’s position that NUMSA and others who made factually incorrect allegations about the work conditions of the firefighters fundamentally misread the context in which a dispute arose over the Canadian deployment,” says Minister Molewa.
“This decision clarifies the position of the successful EPWP programmes under implementation by not only our Department but others as well... the firefighters of WoF are an essential part of the services being delivered by government, particularly during high fire seasons and their work cannot be under-estimated,” the Minister added.
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) runs twelve EPWP as part of the over-arching EPWP.
They are aimed at creating work opportunities for many young South Africans who for various reason have not acquired the necessary education and or skills. Through the EPWP they are able to gain skills and increase their capacity to advance and earn an income.
The programmes enhance participants’ chances of finding jobs or starting their own businesses, as it has already happened with some of the fire fighters who have gone on to full time employment with SANParks, the SAPS and municipal traffic management authorities amongst others.
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