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South African firefighters could leave Canada after pay dispute

Senior management from Working on Fire left for Canada on Thursday evening to address the firefighters concerns.

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Some 300 South African firefighters, who were deployed to Canada to fight a wildfire in the oil sands region, could be heading home after a wage dispute.

The firefighters arrived in northern Alberta a little under two weeks ago to help fight a fire near Fort McMurray. They warmed everyone’s hearts when they arrived in Canada and burst into song.

But the deployment has now hit a sour note. Reuters reports:

On Thursday, Working on Fire, a South African government-funded organisation that trains firefighters, said a senior management team was on its way to Alberta assist with their demobilisation and return home.

At the heart of the issue is how much the firefighters will earn for their work in Canada. Canadian authorities agreed to cover accommodation and meals, while each firefighter would also receive a daily stipend of C$15 ($11.80) for discretionary purchases, according to Working on Fire.

The firefighters will also receive an “out of country daily allowance” to the rand value equivalent of C$35 per day upon their return home. They also to receive the regular wage they earn at home.

They are required to work 12 hours per day on a 14-day work cycle, with three days off at the end of 14 days.

According to Reuters, though, local media reports about salary increases for personnel deployed to Canada caused confusion and they went on strike on Wednesday.

“We wish to categorically state that the quoted amount of $21 per hour is incorrect and was never agreed to with anyone,” Working on Fire said, referring to the media reports. It added in a statement that each firefighter signed the agreement on pay before coming to Canada.

The statement added that senior management was dispatched to Canada on Thursday evening to address the firefighters concerns.

African correspondent from The Globe and Mail, Geoff York says the firefighters want their daily allowance while in Canada.

“The firefighters are a bit suspicious of that, there’s so much distrust as some don’t believe they will get the promised $35 when they return

Authorities at Alberta’s Agriculture and Forestry said that the departure of the firefighters would not disrupt efforts to fight the fire.