MD Message May 2018
Upon my return to Working on Fire in May 2017, members of the Executive Committee and I engaged with participants and management. We observed at that time that we were not providing the kind of working environment for our participants as we had in the past, which put them at the heart of what this programme sought to achieve. We re-established the Executive Committee to take responsibility for the overall leadership and management of Working on Fire. It has become the structure through which I am able to obtain input in managing the company and hold the EXCO members to account for their specific portfolios.
Since May 2017, Working on Fire has embarked upon a ‘Back to Basics’ programme which is founded on our values of Accountability, Teamwork, Excellence, Adaptability and Making a Difference, driven by our commitment to Respect and Discipline. We wish to reiterate some of the essential features which govern our relationship.
The ‘Back to Basics’ campaign was kicked off with the company’s commitment to repaying the public holiday pay due to all firefighters which had not been paid since mid-August 2015. That repayment process was concluded in the 2016/17 financial year. Back to Basics also meant we reverted to our company’s old system of working eight hours a day for seven days per week (standby on weekends) for five months of the fire season and eight hours per day five days per week for the seven months out of the fire season. This system has been welcomed by our firefighters, even as the pattern of our fire seasons may need us to review the periods for which they apply to the summer and winter rainfall regions.
This year, Working on Fire celebrates its fifteenth year since its inception in 2003. The greatest achievement of the programme is that it has changed the lives of the 5,000 participants in the programme today, as well as that of the estimate 25,000 dependants who have indirectly benefited from this programme. There is no doubt that the biggest success stories of the Working on Fire programme lay in the personal testimonies of many former participants who have found work outside of the programme in formal employment sectors such as the police, the army and nature conservation agencies across South Africa. Putting our firefighters at the heart of what Working on Fire should achieve, i.e. developing the skills of these young men and women to be able to become employable in the formal economy, remains paramount in our objectives.
To this end, our key focus for this year will be on further enhancing the ability of our firefighters to exit Working on Fire for the formal employment sector. This will ensure that the programme can create more work opportunities for young men and women as those exiting create space for new entrants. To achieve these objectives, we are implementing life skills initiatives, such as teaching our firefighters how to prepare proper CVs, handle job interviews, search for vacancies, apply for published internships and negotiate placement agreements with employees. Furthermore, we will implement programmes to develop the entrepreneurial skills of our firefighters, such as business and technical skills training. We will also pilot brickmaking and house construction skills and revive our beekeeping and solar lighting projects.
It is important that we all (firefighters and management) understand that the key objectives of Working on Fire as an Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP)of government is to provide immediate poverty relief, work and skills development opportunities for the most vulnerable. Some of the training and skills development components will therefore be geared towards enabling firefighters to graduate into self or formal employment. This will increase Working on Fire’s impact on increased sustainable labour market absorption and participation. I recently returned from Canada where the South African and Canadian governments are close to finalising a formal inter-country agreement on wildland fire exchanges when the need arises.