Notley vows South African firefighters will be paid as promised
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, June 9, 2016 11:21AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 9, 2016 7:51PM EDT
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says 300 South African firefighters who joined the fight against the Fort McMurray wildfire will get paid what they were promised after they threatened to leave over a payment conflict.
"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," Notley said.
The firefighters said they would be leaving Alberta after only a week on the job, following a strike over the terms of their payment.
Notley said the firefighters should be paid about $170 a day, or $21.25 an hour for an eight-hour shift, according to the province’s contract with the agency.
Alberta is paying for food and lodging.
The South Africans' organization, Working on Fire, had said in a statement earlier Thursday that its crews would be "demobilized" from Alberta, and that members of senior management have been sent to Canada "to address the firefighters' concerns."
According to a Globe and Mail report, several members of the firefighting team met with a South African official to discuss terms of their payment on Tuesday, at which point it was made clear that 70 per cent of their daily stipend would be withheld until they returned home. The next morning, all 300 firefighters refused to work.
On Thursday, Working on Fire sought to address "confusion" around payment of its workers, by providing details of the agreement they signed.
According to Working on Fire, all firefighters were slated to earn their "normal stipend" as members of the country's public works department, including overtime beyond eight hours each day. In addition, they are to be paid a total of $50 per day in the Rand equivalent of Canadian funds - $15 per day while they are in Canada, and another $35 for each day worked, after returning to South Africa.
"This was discussed with firefighters before their departure to Canada and everyone signed this agreement," the Working on Fire statement said.
"We want to emphasize the intended beneficial experience of this deployment for these young South Africans," the organization said.
The dispute has been a sour note to the South Africans' deployment in Alberta, which started with much fanfare when they arrived at the airport in Edmonton on May 29. The firefighters sang and danced on their first day in Canada.
"I'm kind of excited," South African firefighter M.J. Letwaba said at the time. "I'm going to learn new stuff."
With files from CTV Edmonton