Firefighters Network forum: organising for decent work

10 September 2015
Unions representing fire fighters from the Asia Pacific region met in Manila on 8 and 9 September 2015 with a view of strengthening their network.

Representatives from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Australia committed to working on key issues in the region. Danilo Zuliani, Funzione Pubblica Cgil/PSI Firefighters Coordinator, based in Italy, provided the European perspective.

Despite the economic differences between different countries, there were a number of common concerns facing fire fighters within the region. It was clear that in lower economic communities, the issues facing fire fighters are more acute. Climate change means stronger and more frequent natural disasters, which coupled with rapid urbanisation is seeing increased demand on underfunded and under resourced services. For example, the number of fires in Bombay has risen three fold in the last few years and the region is experiencing more frequent and stronger typhoons, such as Hiyan which devastated areas in the Philippines. Poor building regulations have contributed to an increasing number of building collapses in India and Pakistan.

The importance of linking fire fighter services with key infrastructure and governance needs to be addressed. Fire trucks (appliances) must be able to move quickly through traffic and have access to water on arrival, police and ambulances need support on site and it is vital to have clear regulations for the safe storage of hazardous materials. China’s recent Tianjin disaster, where many fire fighters lost their lives, is a stark reminder of the importance of clear guidelines.

In the Philippines the majority of local fire fighters work on a volunteer basis, whilst in India, Pakistan and Korea pay and conditions are poor. Attacks on insurance, pensions and conditions occur regularly throughout the region. Even though the health risk for fire fighters being exposed to harmful chemicals generated by fires, and the psychological impact in dealing with tragedies are universal, ensuring the provision of safety equipment and adequate training was a major issue in Pakistan, India, Korea and the Philippines.

The meeting heard from Mr Shigeru Wada, ILO Regional Specialist in Workers ‘Activities (ILO Asia and Pacific regional office, Bangkok) who discussed the ILO conventions that should apply to fire fighters; the right to form and join public sector unions, the right to strike, the right to collective bargaining. Participants said they are hampered in their right to advocate for the safety of their members and their communities because in each of the AP countries these rights are not enacted.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to write a position paper that will be used in local campaigns. The campaign will highlight that the safety of fire fighters and the safety of our communities rely on fire fighters having the right to form and join democratically free unions and having the right to speak out on issues of safety and training for their members. Without these basic trade union and human rights, the lives of fire fighters will continue to be lost. The link between fire fighters internationally must be made stronger in order to pressure governments to recognise these rights. For more details and photos, please click here.

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