Government insists that overseas airport firefighters are temporary measure
Government has defended its use of overseas firefighters at the LF Wade International Airport, reiterating that the measure is temporary.
Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, said yesterday that the Canadian firefighters were required to ensure Bermuda’s airport met international requirements.
While he said that as short-term contracted workers the overseas firefighters did receive flights and housing, they did not receive some of the benefits enjoyed by Bermudians in the service.
“Their monthly fee equates to the lowest monthly rate for a local firefighter,” he said. “They are responsible for registering and paying taxes.
“Whilst they receive two days off per month they do not receive the same benefits as local firefighters who benefit not only from full time employment but annual leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave, parental leave, bereavement leave, long service leave, lieu leave, special personal leave, public holidays, pension benefits, retirement benefit, medical benefit, dental benefit, ophthalmic benefit and a telephone allowance.
“We are very fortunate to have been able to secure the services of the overseas firefighters in such short order in order to maintain uninterrupted flight operations at the airport.”
Mr Weeks said the initial cadre of ten overseas firefighters had allowed the airport to continue to operate normally, but the fire service continued to be stretched.
He said that in order to meet the minimum number required for the British Airways flight, firefighters had to come in on leave days and rest days.
“This was not a sustainable short term solution and put an unfair strain on firefighters who could not take leave or even a rest day.
“In order to maintain sufficient firefighters at the airport, an additional 25 firefighters are being contracted from overseas from October until the end of March 2023.
“This will enable the service to maintain the interim minimum duty strength without excessive overtime and burn out of local firefighters. It will allow local firefighters to take their leave and rest days.”
He said the contracts for the overseas firefighters conclude in March, by which time 11 new recruits would be able to enter the service.
Mr Weeks told the House that a UK Civil Aviation Aviation Authority rescue fire fighting expert had carried out a review and his report was being used for “further discussions with Skyport and the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority” on the minimum duty strength requirements at the airport.
The minister added: “Once we have agreed the final minimum duty strength requirements for the airport, we will look at all options for meeting those requirements and as promised, I will provide an update at that time.
“In the interim, eleven local persons are being hired from November to train as airport rated firefighters and their training will be completed by the end of March 2023.”
Mr Weeks told the House that he believed the minimum duty strength required for the airport was “overlooked” during negotiations about the construction of the new airport building.
He added that future recruitment drives would be held to further bolster firefighter numbers in the future, but the exact number of firefighters that will be needed has yet to be determined.
Earlier this week, the Bermuda Fire Service Association said they were at their boiling point over the Government’s handling of overseas firefighters.
A spokesman for the group said local firefighters were frustrated by a disparity in benefits and salary deductions between themselves and the Canadian firefighters.
They added that because of the low number of locals being trained for roles in the service, the overseas firefighters would likely be needed for two to three years.