Singing South African firefighters dispute pay at Fort McMurray wildfire
Crews refuse to work Wednesday, unsettled by media reports claiming they're making $15-$21 an hour
South African firefighters who made international headlines for singing when they arrived in Canada have now turned to protests to dispute the wages they're being paid.
About 300 firefighters who came to Alberta last month to help fight the Fort McMurray fire did not report for work Wednesday because of a pay dispute.
Ditiro Moseki, one of the firefighters based at a camp north of Fort McMurray, said they are being paid $15 a day.
"It's 15 not even per hour, it's 15 per day," said Moseki.
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While that may seem hard to believe, given that Alberta expects to move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2018, a contract thought to be between the firefighters and their employer seems to back up the claim.
The Alberta government says it made a deal with the South African government for the firefighters' services.
It shows the firefighters signed a contract that stated they would be paid a total of $50 a day, split into two payments.
The contract agrees to pay them $15 a day now, with the balance of $35 a day paid out within six months of their return to South Africa.
Fire crews upset about media reports
Moseki agreed firefighters did sign the contract, but said they have since been unsettled by media reports claiming they're making much more money.
He said news articles quoted the South African government program that employs the crews claiming the workers are making between $15 and $21 an hour.
"We are not here for money, we are here to assist you," said Moseki, adding the firefighters have turned to the South African commissioner in Canada for help to resolve the issue.
The contract does make it clear the money the firefighters are being paid is over and above their home wages, which were not disclosed.
The provincial government confirmed the South African firefighters did not work Wednesday because of the pay dispute.
"We contract with the South African government based on a rate per day per firefighter," Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said in a statement. "We're paying the rate. It's our understanding these firefighters are being paid what they agreed to before they arrived. But if there is a disagreement here, it's between the firefighters and their employer and not with the Government of Alberta."
The ministry said the firefighters are employed by the Government of South Africa.
The province said the contract was originally to bring the firefighters to Alberta for 18 days. They arrived in Alberta on May 29.
The contract calls for the South African firefighters to work 12 hours per day on a 14-day work cycle, with three days off at the end of 14 days.
The crews are meeting with South African officials.
CBC could not reach the South African government for comment.