SA fire-fighters back from Canada after wage dispute

CAPE TOWN – Hundreds of South African fire-fighters arrived home last Tuesday from Canada after a mission marred by a wage dispute.

The 301 fire-fighters ended their mission apparently after negotiations failed to resolve a pay dispute between them and the Working on Fire (WOF), which dispatched the fire-fighters.

The fire-fighters, deployed to Alberta, Canada earlier this month to assist with wildfire suppression, downed tools last week in protest against inadequate payment.

The fire-fighters were dispatched as part of a resource sharing agreement between South Africa and Canadian fire-fighting agencies.

Upon return of the fire-fighters, the South African Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs issued a statement, voicing concern about the treatment of the fire-fighters.

As the Portfolio Committee that plays a critical role in overseeing the work of WOF, it will be engaging with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to fully understand what happened in Canada to prevent any similar occurrence in future, the committee said.

The WOF, housed in the DEA, is part of the SA government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) which aims to create 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.

The DEA is tasked by President Jacob Zuma to help resolve the wage dispute.

The Portfolio Committee said it is particularly concerned about disturbing media reports, which seem to suggest that the fire fighters were remunerated far less than what they should be paid.

“This is disturbing given that the fire fighters are from marginalised communities and were trained in fire prevention and suppression skills to enable them to earn a living,” the committee said.

The DEA has to account in this matter, particularly given the negative reports generated by this episode which have the potential to dent the image of South Africa, Committee Chairperson Phillemon Mapulane said.

“As the Committee, we envisage our country playing a significant role in assisting other countries in fire prevention and suppression, and hence we need to do it professionally and in a dignified manner, befitting our excellent international image,” said Mapulane.

On Monday, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa downplayed the wage dispute, saying the fire-fighters ended their mission “following successful discussions” between the fire-fighters and the high-level WOF team dispatched to Canada.

She said her ministry will continue to engage directly with the Canadian government to establish an over-arching Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set parameters for the two implementing agencies to work together in the future. – Nampa/Xinhua

June 2016
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