Pay Dispute Leads to Early Departure of South African Firefighters

A pay dispute between 300 South African firefighters and their employer that prompted a strike on Wednesday in the midst of unprecedented wildfires in Canada has resulted in the firefighters returning home.

The firefighters, who are employed by a South African government-funded organization called Working on Fire, were brought in to help battle the wildfires in Alberta. The firefighters believed they would/should be paid between $15 and $21 per hour, but apparently Working on Fire only provided a daily expense stipend of C$15 ($11.80US) for discretionary purchases, and an “out of country daily allowance” equal to the C$35 per day ($27.53US).

Officials from both countries have been busy doing public relations damage-control. Spokespersons for Working on Fire were quoted as saying:

  • “We wish to categorically state that the quoted amount of $21 per hour is incorrect and was never agreed to with anyone.”
  • “[I]t’s part of the firefighter ethos to first and foremost deliver an emergency service. We are extremely disappointed that we couldn’t resolve this internally before it escalated to become an international incident.”
  • “We are currently investigating the matter internally and wish to apologize to both the Canadian government and Canadian citizens for any inconvenience this may have caused,”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was quoted as saying:

  • “I can say right now that every hour that every firefighter from South Africa or anywhere else has worked on these fires will be compensated in accordance with our laws in this province.”

According to the Communication Director for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Mike Long:

  • “We have nearly 2,000 firefighters on the line currently and the fire is 70 percent contained at the moment so it’s at a point where we are able to manage the need appropriately.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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