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Airborne unit of forestry department will stop flying sorties from May 1

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Forestry department staff of the airborne unit will not fly firefighting sorties from next month in protest at the government’s ongoing indifference to their longstanding demands.

In a press release on Thursday, the union representing the pilots said that as of May 1 – the official start of the fire season – they will abstain from any flight activity as well as from standby duties relating to forest protection.

The pilots reiterated their complaint about understaffing at the unit, saying they have sent letters to the finance and agriculture ministers.

Despite some moves by the government in the past few years to boost the unit, serious problems remain that put in jeopardy the security of the unit, particularly when dealing with major fires.

“The unit has been plagued by a lack of pilots, and as a result each year the government hires at a high cost the services of pilots from other countries, and takes to leasing aircraft as their number is insufficient,” the union said.

The union also proposes that the airborne unit be rendered autonomous, enabling it to operate more effectively, and they are asking for the reinstatement of the flight benefit (axed in 2012) in a bid to attract interest in the job.

The pilots called on the government to take a serious look at their problems as soon as possible.

Forestry department staff in general have threatened to strike again and again – only to call off their action at the last moment after government promises that their problems will be looked into.

Earlier this month department employees held a symbolic protest outside the agriculture and finance ministries to lobby for additional staff to help address what they say is chronic understaffing.

Since the end of January, the union has called on members to abstain from overtime in protest at the state’s failure to restore 27 positions that were scrapped in 2012 to 2015, which they say are “essential for the department’s ability to operate to an acceptable level”.

The workers staged a six-hour work stoppage over the same issue in December 2021.

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