President's Commentary: Australia bushfires — NUPGE wildland firefighters answer the call

In the face of terrible devastation and extreme danger, NUPGE wildland firefighters volunteer to fight what is being called the worst season of bush fires in Australian history.

 

by Larry Brown, NUPGE President, and Bert Blundon, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer

The news from Australia is almost too unreal to comprehend: unprecedented devastation across millions of hectares of the east coast of the country because of massive out-of-control fires. The staggering loss of property and life — including several million animals — is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

And yet at the same time, we are also witnessing the very best of humanity: the selfless heroism of wildland firefighters. There has been a lot of news about the fact that Canadians are in Australia volunteering. What you may not know is that many of these firefighters volunteering in Australia are actually NUPGE members, from our component unions in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, with members of our other component unions on the way.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our Canadian firefighters. We want them to know that their bravery is creating an incredible pride and honour among all our National Union brothers and sisters.

It never ceases to impress us that in these kinds of incredibly dangerous situations, when people are fleeing for their lives, it is the workers NUPGE represents who are often heading in the other direction — directly into the danger. We want to take this opportunity to commend these highly trained workers for their selfless bravery. And we want to offer a reminder to all Canadians that this is something we should not take for granted: these are public sector workers risking their own lives to protect and help others.

This situation also reminds us that these workers need better support from federal and provincial governments. They deserve presumptive legislation for cancer and other illnesses, and they deserve regulations that allow for earlier retirement without penalty.

As Canada quickly approaches our own fire season, these concerns become even more pressing. These issues will be discussed at an upcoming working session for wildland firefighters in February of this year.

To all of Canada’s wildland firefighters who risk their lives in Canada and abroad, we salute you.

 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE