EDMONTON – A group that employs 300 South African firefighters on loan to Alberta to battle the Fort McMurray blaze says it is bringing its workers home after they complained about what they are being paid.
The organization Working on Fire says senior managers have been sent to Canada to address concerns and oversee the return to South Africa after a week on the job.
An Alberta government spokesman says some of the firefighters refused to work on Wednesday.
Working on Fire says an agreement that was signed called for the firefighters to earn their normal stipend, plus any overtime, as members of South Africa’s public works department.
They also were to receive an additional $50 a day in two separate payments: $15 while in Canada and the remaining $35 after returning home.
Firefighter Ditiro Moseki told Edmonton radio station CHED that he has been working 12 hours a day and gets paid $50 a day.
Moseki says a news story he and some of his co-workers saw from South Africa says the employer is paying them $21 an hour.
“They have gone to the media and tell the media that they are going to pay us $21 per hour,” Moseki said Wednesday. “So, comparing the $21 per hour to that $50 that they are going to give us today, there is a serious difference there.”
Working on Fire says it never agreed to pay anyone $21 an hour.
“This was discussed with firefighters before their departure to Canada and everyone signed this agreement,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.
Spokesman Linton Rensburg added in an email to The Canadian Press that the firefighters normal stipend is the Canadian equivalent of between $200 and $1,200 a month depending on rank.
The Alberta government is not part of the pay dispute, provincial spokesperson Renato Gandia said.
“We have a contract with the South African government based on a rate per day per firefighter,” Gandia said in a statement to CTV News. “We’re paying that rate.
“It is 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, not with the government of Alberta.”
The South Africans’ deployment in Alberta started with much fanfare when they arrived at the Edmonton airport May 29. The firefighters sang and danced and expressed their excitement at being able to help.