Parliamentary committee 'concerned' about SA firefighters debacle

South African firefighters had gone to Canada to help suppress wildfires there. (AFP)

South African firefighters had gone to Canada to help suppress wildfires there. (AFP)

The parliamentary portfolio committee on environmental affairs on Tuesday said it would engage with the department of environmental affairs to “fully understand” the salary dispute involving South African firefighters who had gone to Canada to help suppress wildfires there.

The firefighters arrived back in South Africa after negotiations failed to resolve a pay dispute between them and the Working on Fire Programme, which is housed in the department of environmental Affairs. The department, however, said in a statement on Monday night that the firefighters were returning home because they were no longer needed due to heavy rainfall which was helping to put out the flames.

“As the portfolio committee that plays a critical role in overseeing the work of Working on Fire, it will be engaging with the department of environmental affairs to fully understand what happened in Canada to prevent any similar occurrence in future,” a statement by the committee said.

The 301 firefighters embarked on a strike over their salaries shortly after arriving in Alberta, Canada. They had arrived on May 30 to assist with wildfire suppression, as part of a resource-sharing agreement with Canadian firefighting agencies.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee Phillemon Mapulane said the department had to account for the matter, given the negative reports “generated by this episode which has the potential to dent the image of the country”.

Firefighters from ‘marginalised communities’
“As the Committee, we envisage our country playing a significant role in assisting other countries in fire prevention and suppression, and hence we need to do it professionally and in a dignified manner, befitting our excellent international image.”

The committee further stated it was concerned with the alleged involvement of Kishigu Holdings, a private company that is believed to be the primary implementer of the Working on Fire Programme. It said Kishigu Holdings was also a major beneficiary of the $170 that was to be paid per South African fire fighter per day by the Canadian government.

“The Committee is particularly concerned about disturbing media reports, which seem to suggest that the firefighters were remunerated far less than this company is alleged to be paid per fire fighter.

“This is disturbing given that the firefighters are from marginalised communities and were trained in fire prevention and suppression skills to enable them to earn a living.” – News24

 

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