Ontario’s minister of natural resources and forestry is set to meet with disgruntled workers from northern Ontario as a record-breaking fire season continues to rage.
Representatives from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and firefighters from wildland fire fighting bases around the province have a date with minster Graydon Smith on Aug. 2, both parties tell Global News.
In a statement, the union said the meeting had been called to discuss the “recruitment and retention crisis” in Ontario.
“This is a matter of life or death,” OPSEU said.
“The government needs to correct the situation before the tragic forest fire worker fatalities we’ve seen in other parts of the country happen in Ontario as well.”
The union plans to raise demands for higher wages, danger pay and longer contracts. Open letters from “almost every base in Ontario” will also be presented to the minister.
Smith’s office told Global News the province was always ready to provide the equipment training and resources needed to fight forest fires safely.
“We know there are issues that have been raised by staff and there is a need to understand and address challenges around how to retain staff and recruit new people into this very important and challenging work,” the minister’s office said.
The meeting comes as forest fires continue to rage.
Data from the provincial government shows 518 fires have burned in Ontario so far this year, compared to 164 in 2022 and a 10-year average of 484.
Smoke from fires in Ontario and Quebec has filtered down to Toronto and across North America, prompting air quality concerns.
Provinces, including British Columbia and Alberta, have reported casualties in their fights to control wildland fires. A contract firefighter from Ontario died on the west coast at the end of July in the most recent fatality.
“We are looking forward to meeting with and hearing directly from OPSEU and (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) employees as we work to address these issues,” Smith’s office said.