A Supreme Court ruling has upheld a finding that fitness test requirements for wildland firefighters could be discriminatory, leading the union to slam the provincial government for continuing to administer the test.
“These employees have suffered significant emotional and financial impacts for the past seven years,” said Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU) president Bob Bymoen in a press release.
He said he was “appalled” the government has indicated it will continue to use the test, even though it says it will do so with modified requirements.
In 2012, Saskatchewan implemented a fitness test called the WFX-Fit test, developed by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre for Type 1 wildland firefighters across Canada. People are tested in their ability to complete a series of physical, strenuous tasks, within a set minimal time, called a “cut-score.”
After the union filed a grievance, an arbitrator found the WFX-Fit test cutoff score as it was previously set had “a potential discriminatory adverse impact on females and older males,” and was not a reasonable measure of their fitness to perform the job.
An appeal court upheld that finding, and in March, the Supreme Court of Canada refused the Saskatchewan government’s request to appeal the ruling.
The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) has argued that a fitness test introduced by the province is not really representative of firefighting operations, and is not appropriate to judge minimal standards. (Don Somers/CBC)
“Government had a chance to resolve this seven years ago, but instead chose to waste taxpayers’ money and destroy the careers and livelihoods of many firefighters,” says Bymoen. “Some lost their source of income, their pride, and their dignity.”
He called on the provincial Ministry of Environment to stop using the WFX-FIT test and begin compensating firefighters who were harmed or suffered injuries as a result of the testing.
Government says it’s relaxed requirements
The Ministry of Environment said across Canada, SGEU is the only union to complain about the test. It notes the arbitrator had not criticized the test itself or its use, but that the cut-off score itself is arbitrary and could be discriminatory.
The government says it has gotten an opinion from experts who designed the test that the cut score could be validly lowered from 17 minutes and 15 seconds to 18 minutes and 10 seconds.
“The ministry believes that relaxing the cut score will address the arbitrator’s concerns and will comply with the arbitrator’s requirements,” it stated.
Since Saskatchewan will continue using a modified version of the test, firefighters can still challenge the national cutoff score of 14 minutes and 30 seconds to be able to travel to other provinces and work, said the ministry.
“There’s also a desire to ensure the testing of Type 1 wildland firefighters remains standardized across Canada,” it noted.