300 South African firefighters working the blaze near Fort McMurray could be heading back home after confusion and animosity hit their camp over low payment.
The firefighters drew attention to themselves when they landed at Edmonton airport, Canada last month, singing and dancing. And less than a week on the job, the firefighters went on strike over a pay dispute with their South African employer.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley expressed disappointment that the fire fighters were receiving an allowance of only $15 a day, vowing that they’ll be paid what the province’s labour laws require.
Ms. Notley said on Thursday, the firefighters need to be paid at least the minimum required by Alberta law – $11.20 an hour. She said the province is paying $170 daily for each South African firefighter, as well as providing food, accommodation and travel costs.
“It’s not acceptable to me and to my government that we would have people working for wages in our province that do not align with our labour laws.
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,” Notley said.
South African Firefighters Confusion Linked To Media Reports
The confusion among the firefighters was linked to media reports of the promised pay increase, the South African organization said in a statement.
“We are dispatching a senior management team to Alberta this evening to address the firefighters’ concerns and to assist with the smooth demobilization of our firefighters and their safe return back home to South Africa,” the statement adds.
Bitiro Moseki, one of the fighters said the group were deployed to primarily help the Canadian government and blamed the media for reporting inflated pay figures.
Though Canadian authorities agreed to cover accommodation and meals, but each fire fighter received a daily stipend of $15 for discretionary purchases, as well as their local salaries.
“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.
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.
According to their contract, each firefighters would be receiving $15 a day, with a further $35 being paid out within six months after leaving Canada.
Meanwhile, a South African government website revealed that South African 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 and a typical firefighter in the province makes around $30 an hour.
That notwithstanding, the Alberta Premier has since asked ministry officials to resolve the matter.