Parliament not complying with health and safety act: Nehawu

Image: Mercedes Besent

The Parliament building on fire in Cape Town, January 2, 2021.

Labour union Nehawu has expressed concern about the state of the Parliament building. It has emerged that there was no security personnel looking after the buildings on Saturday night.

The blaze Saturday morning has gutted the third floor of the Old Assembly Building. The roof of that structure has collapsed. The City of Cape Town’s fire services says the ceiling inside the National Assembly inside the Parliamentary precinct has also collapsed but the roof of that building is still intact.

The union’s branch secretary in Parliament Themba Gabula says their members were told that there is no money to pay for overtime.

“Police were here yes, but they guard parameters of the institution, now protection service officials guard the inside the building of the parliament. So, had they been here, they would have been able to detect the fire earlier on, and the fire would have been able to put it under control. This is not surprising to us, as a union that the situation has escalated to this – because we’ve been sounding an alarm to the employer, that our members, members of parliament as well as documents are not safe in parliament. Because parliament is not complying with the health and safety act.”

‘False statements’

But the parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo has rubbished suggestions by labour union Nehawu, that the fire could have been prevented, had security personnel been present.

He said that the union was politicking and making false statements because they’re disgruntled due to ongoing salary negotiations.

“The investigations have already begun by the relevant authorities. The stakeholders like Nehawu have got an opportunity to be part of that investigation process and to provide whatever information that they claim they know.

“Currently, really, we’re just dealing with speculation, with a union that is really upset with regards to the salary negotiations, and therefore are making irresponsible remarks in the media because no one knows at this moment, what is the cause of the fire and how it could have been prevented,” Mothapo explained.

A compliance expert says that there are laws and by-laws that regulate maintenance compliance for national key points, based on national building regulations as well as the occupational health and safety act.

Fire auditor and compliance expert Pamela Senyosi says the fire is particularly concerning, given that there was also a blaze at parliament last year.

“When the question was raised that the fire sprinklers could have not been triggered, it’s a very big concern because you start asking yourself that if we have fire systems in place, are they not maintained, and onset times? And if they are maintained, do we have records of the maintenance that was done regularly? I also looked at the fact that the building is old, if there are any changes in the building, like your occupancy. Has it been sent to the municipality for approval?”

Former Fire Auditor, Pamela Sinyosi explains:

Investigations underway

The docket on the fire, including the details on the arrest of a 49-year-old man, has been handed over to the Hawks for further investigation.

Meanwhile, Public Works Minister Patricia De Lille has denied suggestions that a report on the results of a fire that happened in parliament last year in March, has been kept secret. She has cautioned against speculation.

De lille says investigations are currently underway.

“There’s a honourable member of parliament that’s been spreading lies about that report. That report was presented to parliament after the forensic investigation has been done. The report was not hidden, anybody had access, including all the parliamentary committees and the findings of that forensic investigation was that the fire was started by an electrical shortage. Thereafter there was another briefing about how we’re going to repair that damage.”

Minister Patricia de Lille, Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli brief media:  

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Monday 3 January 2022 to reflect the correct age of the suspect. He is 49 years old Not 51 years as earlier reported.

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