Firefighters have ratified a new collective agreement with the District of Sooke.
Local 4841 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) unanimously voted to accept the four-year contract retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020. The contract expires on Dec. 31, 2023.
In a statement, IAFF president Cam Norris-Jones said the four-year agreement provides 2.5 per cent in the first and second year and three per cent for 2022. For 2023, the rate will be determined by the percentage increase received by Central Saanich, Salt Spring Island and Squamish firefighter unions.
The deal also includes mental health support and resources to improve response times.
“The collective agreement begins addressing excessive overtime and supports improving the health and wellness of our members. Together, through a positive and collaborative approach, we have tangibly improved emergency response to the community we so proudly serve,” Norris Jones said.
Two more firefighters will be hired to provide 24-hour coverage at Fire Station No. 1 on Otter Point Road.
The fire department budget currently compensates qualified staff for being on duty and responding to after-hours calls. In 2023, the costs associated with this on-duty shift and overtime associated with emergency callbacks after hours will be reallocated to hire the additional firefighters.
As part of the improvements to mental health, a new $1,000 extended health benefit has been added, which can be extended to $2,000 when combined with other benefits.
In addition to health benefits, the improvements to staffing will “dramatically decrease” the overtime hours worked by staff and improve work-life balance for firefighters, Norris-Jones said.
“We’re grateful for the tremendous work of our firefighters in serving our community. Working together to ensure we have an agreement that fosters a positive culture and mental health support for the effective delivery of services in the care and protection of Sooke is critical,” Mayor Maja Tait said in a statement.