CALGARY — Wildland firefighters, an essential part of Alberta’s wildfire prevention program, say they are on the receiving end of mistreatment from the provincial government, union leaders report.
The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), which represents the province’s wildland firefighters, says payroll issues with the government’s 1GX pay system are affecting when their members are being paid.
According to a release from the union, firefighters, particularly those that work weekends and evening shifts, are seeing shortfalls on their paycheques.
“We’re hearing from firefighters that they’ve had to borrow money from friends and family to pay their bills,” said Mike Dempsey, AUPE vice-president in a release. “They’re incredibly frustrated by how long it is taking to fix these pay problems, and it’s affecting morale on the job.”
In some cases, firefighters haven’t been paid in more than a month.
Dempsey says members have flagged the issues for their managers, but the payroll problems haven’t gone away.
“Administrative issues shouldn’t be for firefighters to fix. These workers need to concentrate on keeping Albertans safe. That’s their job, not fixing the government’s avoidable mistakes,” he said.
The AUPE claims firefighters are also taking issue with the government’s delay in sending offers of seasonal employment less than a month before the proposed start date.
“Because of this last-minute recruitment, firefighters say that they’ve lost many colleagues to jobs elsewhere. Employee turnover, normally around 25 per cent, was around 50 per cent this year,” the AUPE wrote.
“The UCP likes to say that they’re protecting lives and livelihoods,” Dempsey said. “So why can’t they help firefighters — whose entire job is to protect Albertans’ lives and livelihoods?
“If that was anything more than an empty slogan, they would have fixed this problem by now.”
Service Alberta, when asked about the calims by the AUPE, said it was aware of some issues regarding the payroll for firefighters but the 1GX system “has largely been working well.”
“Service Alberta is aware of concerns related to firefighters, including seasonal hires, being paid on time and accurately. We are taking action to resolve these issues,” a spokesperson for Service Alberta wrote in an email to CTV News. “Everyone will be paid accurately. Supplementary paycheques are available until all pay issues are fully resolved.
“We thank staff for their patience and understanding as we work to resolve outstanding issues with this new system.”
Officials say the previous payroll system was more than 20 years old and needed to be replaced.