Rachel Notley intervenes in South African firefighter pay dispute
'The fact of the matter is that it’s not acceptable to me and my government,' Alberta premier says
Premier Rachel Notley is promising that South African firefighters who stopped working in a fight over their pay level will be compensated in accordance with Alberta labour laws.
Notley said Thursday the Alberta government had thought the contract negotiated with the firefighters to help battle the Fort McMurray wildfire would allow them to earn acceptable levels of pay. She was "disturbed" to hear that had not happened.
About 300 firefighters involved in the wage dispute ceased working Wednesday and Thursday due to the wage issue.
- South African firefighters in pay dispute to leave Fort McMurray early
- Singing South African firefighters dispute pay at Fort McMurray wildfire
- South African firefighters arrive eager to help fight Fort McMurray wildfire
While they continue to receive their regular pay from South Africa, the contract for their work in Alberta is for $50 a day for 12-hour shifts, or just over $4 an hour. The Alberta minimum wage is $11.20 an hour. Accommodation and food is being covered by the Canadian authorities.
In order to work in Alberta the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) put out a tender to which the South African program Working on Fire made a successful bid.
I can say right now that every hour that every firefighter from South Africa... will be compensated in accordance with our laws in this province.- Rachel Notley
The contract accepted by CIFFC is then paid by Alberta.
The $50 a day is considered a per diem by Working on Fire.
Back in South Africa, the firefighters wages range from about 2,400 rand a month (the equivalent of $205 Cdn) to 14,000 rand (about $1,200 Cdn) for a crew leader.
According to a government website, a typical firefighter in the province makes around $30 an hour.
While Notley said the dispute is between the firefighters and the South African government, she said she would be taking steps to intervene.
"The fact of the matter is that it's not acceptable to me and my government that we would have people working for wages in our province that do not align with our labour laws," said Notley.
The premier said she has asked ministry officials to resolve the matter.
"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," she said.
Ditiro Moseki, one of the South African firefighters based at a camp north of Fort McMurray, had described the $50-a-day pay as "peanuts." He said the firefighters had felt robbed.
"That makes me feel very much happy," said Moseki after Notley made her comments.
He and the other firefighters are grateful for the premier's intervention, he said. "I can say the premier is doing a very good job for us."
Notley said she will direct government officials to ensure that any further contracts with agencies from outside Alberta will have to meet the minimum standards of Alberta law.
Meanwhile, senior management officials from the South African government job creation program which hired the workers are expected to arrive in Alberta Friday.
A news release from the program called Working on Fire says the $50-a-day contract had been discussed with all the workers and signed by them before their departure to Canada.They arrived in Alberta May 29.
The release said that the $50 payment is essentially a daily allowance, while the firefighters continue to be paid in South Africa.
The South African officials coming to Alberta will help with the return home of the firefighters.