Mediator, envoy sent to intervene in singing firefighters' pay battle

Cape Town - A mediator from Working on Fire has been sent to Canada by Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa to assist in resolving the pay dispute involving a team of firefighters, the department said on Sunday.

Spokesperson Albi Modise in a statement said Trevor Abrahams along with a high level management team from Working on Fire and SA High Commissioner to Canada Membathisi Mdladlana would meet with the firefighters involved in the dispute.
This follows President Jacob Zuma’s request for intervention following the standoff, “failing which, the mediation team will ensure that the firefighters are demobilised and return safely back to South Africa”.

“Minister Molewa concurs fully with sentiment expressed by Alberta Governor Rachel Notley that remuneration for the firefighters should be fair and equitable,” he said.

“The department will continue to engage directly with the implementing agent, WoF personnel and with the Canadian government on the conditions under which South African firefighters are deployed both now and in future.

“This will include the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Canada and South Africa, as well as a concomitant implementation plan between the implementing agencies of Canada and South Africa respectively. This implementation plan will be done in consultation with WoF firefighters.”

Confirmation of pay demands

Working on Fire on Saturday told News24 the Canada government has asked South Africa's singing firefighters to return home after an internal pay dispute could not be resolved.

The team, however, indicated that they will not leave until they receive confirmation that their pay demands will be met, said Johan Heine, chairperson of the WoF board.

The 301 firefighters were deployed to Alberta and arrived on May 30 to assist with wildfire suppression, as part of a resource sharing agreement with Canadian firefighting agencies, Modise said.

“Working on Fire has been in existence since 2003 and has received international recognition for its role in supporting conservation and sustaining ecosystems and community upliftment through the provision of job opportunities and skills and training of participants.”

The team, which is from marginalised communities, have been trained in fire prevention and suppression, first aid, carpentry and health and safety, among others.

Demands for R3 000 a day

Heine said Working on Fire - part of the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme aimed at creating job opportunities for South Africans who cannot find work, enabling them to gain skills and increase their capacity to earn income, and to enter the formal workplace - refuted claims that the initiative was skimming from the $170 a day the Canadians were paying, and only paying firefighters $50 a day.

He said the firefighters were earning R720 a day while in Canada, “and suddenly they are demanding R3 000 a day”.

They earn their normal salary - between R100 to R650 a day depending on their seniority, plus a R70 a day away from base allowance, plus a R50 a day out of country bonus, Heine confirmed.

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