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Working on Fire en route to negotiate with disgruntled firefighters in Canada

The group says it didn't agree to an increased rate for firefighters sent to assist in battling wildfires.

FILE: Over 300 South African firefighters board a Boeing 777 to Canada to assist Fort McMurray in battling raging wild fires, which have been blazing for over a month. 29 May 2016. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - Working on Fire says it did not agree to an increased hourly rate for a group of 300 firefighters sent to Canada to assist in battling wildfires.

The firefighters arrived in Canada last month. Officials from Working on Fire are now en route to negotiate with the disgruntled firefighters.

Working on Fire says the firefighters signed and agreed to a daily allowance of just under R225 a day in addition to their South African salaries, while the Canadian authorities are paying for their accommodation and meals.

The organisation says they also agreed to an additional out-of-country allowance, which would be paid once they return to South Africa.

But African correspondent from _The Globe and Mail, _Geoff York says the firefighters want their daily allowance while in Canada.

"The firefighters are a bit suspicious of that, there's so much distrust as some don't believe they will get the promised $35 when they return."

He says they also want an hourly rate, the same as the Canadian firefighters.

However, Working on Fire has emphasised that the deployment to Canada is a life-changing experience for young South Africans.

STRIKE

Local media reports about salary increases for personnel deployed to Canada caused confusion among the firefighters, prompting them to strike on Wednesday, Work on Fire said in a statement.

"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. It added in a statement that each firefighter signed the agreement on pay before coming to Canada.

Mike Long, communication director for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, said the sudden departure of the South Africans would not disrupt efforts to battle the wildfire.

"We have nearly 2,000 firefighters on the line currently and the fire is 70 percent contained at the moment so it's at a point where we are able to manage the need appropriately," he said.

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