Jwaneng — The eSwatini National Fire and Emergency Services on December 11 visited the Jwaneng Town Council as part of its southern African benchmarking exercise.
Head of delegation, Ms Fikile Dlamini, who is legal adviser in the country's Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, said eSwatini recently ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, which meant they had to abide by the organisation's standards on workers' welfare and rights.
One such right, she pointed out, was entitlement to unionise.
Ms Dlamini said the country's predicament was that fire and emergency services were classified essential service providers with employees not allowed to strike.
She said the situation had raised the need to benchmark in neighboring countries.
"We are currently drafting the fire bill, so we thought it wise to come and benchmark here because countries like Botswana have been having this arrangement for years," she said.
She further explained that after ratification of ILO conventions, eSwatini fire and emergency services employees were elected to senior union positions, which meant in the event of a strike, they would have to lead while at the same time they were prohibited from engaging in such.
"So, there is a catch here, because even though they are prohibited from striking, we also don't want to look as if we are denying them their right to unionise and engage in union activities," she said.
Ms Dlamini said before ratification, Eswatini fire services and emergency workers were bound by the Kings Order of 1975, which places all public officers under the administration of the Civil Service Commission.
The challenge was that the commission had all the powers, including that of disciplining employees, which effectively rendered departmental supervisors powerless, she said.
"The current arrangement is that a chief fire officer, who is the highest authority in the department; cannot take any disciplinary action against an employee if the commission does not find the need, and this has brought a lot of indiscipline in the service. So, we want to develop a code of conduct to instill discipline without trampling on workers' rights," explained Ms Dlamini.
She said the ideal arrangement would be to delegate some disciplinary powers to the chief fire officer and give employees liberty to appeal to the commission in the event they felt prejudiced.
Ms Dlamini said although the fire and emergency services was not a force, discipline was still of high essence considering the nature of the service.
For his part, the council's deputy town clerk, Mr David Mogorosi said the visit was beneficial to both parties as it would help the council improve its policies.
In his vote of thanks, Debswana fire and emergency coordinator, Mr Wilfred Motingwa expressed the hope that what the eSwatini delegation had learnt would be advantageous to their country.
He requested them to share their benchmarking document with the council and other stakeholders so that they could also improve.
He suggested that the eSwatini fire and emergency services department should consider working with private companies providing similar services which would be of benefit to the common client, the general community.
The delegation's interest centred on shift and overtime management, employees' welfare, disciplinary processes and extra duty allowances among others.
The delegation has undertaken another benchmarking mission in South Africa and has proceeded to Namibia on a similar assignment.
Source : BOPA