One-time bonus for Wildland fire workers a ‘drop in the bucket’: OPSEU/SEFPO

Toronto – As our communities brace for the imminent start of the 2024 wildfire season, Wildland fire workers are calling a one-time bonus announced today by the Ford government a drop in the bucket, BandAid response that won’t fix the dire and ongoing crisis.

Last season – Canada’s most destructive on record – frontline Wildland fire workers and their union raised alarms about the risks to the environment and northern communities and lives if the retention crisis in Ontario’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) was not addressed. Now, the government has ignored wildfire workers’ recommendations to fix the crisis, and instead, has scrambled to throw scraps at the crisis and the frontline workers who risk their lives to keep Ontario safe.

“Instead of being proactive and focusing on real solutions – like recognizing Wildland fire workers for the work they do and compensating them properly, or ensuring they have the coverage they need for the risks they face – this government is choosing PR stunts,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick. “They’re more concerned about suppressing criticism than protecting our air quality and human life.”

While the union has agreed to the one-time bonus for members, Hornick says the process has been deeply problematic.

“Let’s be clear, this was not an open conversation about finding real, long-term sustainable solutions,” said Hornick. “This was a take-it or leave-it, one-sided decision. At the same time this government was pretending to talk to Wildland fire workers and ‘make a deal’, they were threatening those who actually speak out with valid concerns. Senior management even sent a memo threatening workers with an investigation into any public criticism.”

The one-time bonus will include $5000 for those in certain job classifications. Originally the government wanted to exclude a significant portion of the AFFES workforce, but the workers pushed back to ensure that those members would receive a $1000 bonus. However, these will all be lump sum payments that do not contribute to workers’ salaries or pensions.

“We won’t stop here or be silenced,” added Hornick. “Today’s announced bonus has only strengthened Wildland fire workers’ resolve to keep up the fight and keep up the pressure. It proves that worker power wins, and we won’t stop until this crisis is resolved and these workers have the respect they deserve.”