President Jacob Zuma has asked Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to intervene in resolving the strike by the 301 South African firefighters deployed by Working on Fire to help contain wildfires in Canada. The firefighters reportedly downed tools over a pay dispute.
The group was sent by Working on Fire which was one of the projects of government’s flagship expanded public works programme. The programme was run by the environmental affairs department, the presidency said in a statement.
The department would be assisted by the international relations and co-operation department in finding a solution to the impasse.
“South Africa warmly welcomes the opportunity provided to South African youth to work abroad. The relations between South Africa and Canada have deepened each year since the dawn of democracy and find expression in social, economic, and political co-operation among others,” the presidency said.
Earlier, Working on Fire said it was investigating the strike by the 301 South African firefighters deployed to Canada and had apologised to the Canadian government and Canadians for any inconvenience this may have caused.
“Working on Fire (Pty) Ltd has successfully completed numerous international deployments in the past,” it said in a statement posted on its website.
“We always agree on remuneration with our firefighters when going on deployments of this nature and, as in this instance, formal contracts were signed.
“We are a company that is proud of the service we deliver and over the years we have proven to the world that we are experts in fighting wildfires. We are ultimately here to save lives, the environment, and property from the damages caused by wildfires.
“To have a dispute about remuneration, and to be accused of being unfair towards our people, is in direct contradiction of our company values. It is part of the firefighter ethos to first and foremost deliver an emergency service.
“We are extremely disappointed that we couldn’t resolve this internally before it escalated to become an international incident. For Working on Fire (Pty) Ltd, it has never been about making money. It has always been about assisting countries (such as Canada) who are facing massive and destructive wildfires.
“We are currently investigating the matter internally and wish to apologise to both the Canadian government and Canadian citizens for any inconvenience this may have caused.
“We wish to ensure the public that we are treating this matter with the utmost importance, and are committed to finding an amicable solution as soon as possible,” the company said.
According to media reports, the 300 firefighters on strike in Canada would be sent home within the next few days and they would face a disciplinary hearing.
The firefighters were reportedly refusing to go out to battle the wildfires in the Fort McMurray area because of a salary dispute.