The new Sustainability Counselor, Ramón Fernández-Pacheco has before it the task of sewing up the open wound between the Junta de Andalucía and the forest firefighters of the community, represented by the Infoca Plan of the Environment and Water Agency (Amaya). After months of disagreements between the two parties, these professionals maintain some claims that are based, above all, on staffing the body throughout the year and recognizing their seniority as workers. Issues that must be reflected in the next regional budget, as required. In this regard, the new Ministry is open to analyzing these and other proposals, taking advantage of the investment made so far by Agriculture.
The forest firefighters camped in Seville will take their protest to the electoral rallies “if the Board continues to ignore them”
Until now, the Infoca belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture of Carmen Crespo, which has generated strong tensions between the firefighters and the Junta de Andalucía. The former have usually felt neglected by the regional Executive in most of their requests, especially in those that refer to providing more workers to the checkpoints that fight the fires, but also to those who have to do prevention work during the rest of the year. As the current collective agreement has not been in force since 2021 and a new one is being negotiated, from the sectoral table, represented mainly by CGT, they understand that it is time to address all the problems.
Present in budgets
To do this, and after the last meeting of the Intercentre Committee at the end of July, the sector calls on the new councilor to contemplate in the budgets for next year the items that allow Infoca to be staffed throughout the year and so that they can collect the concept of antiquity that has been frozen for more than a decade. Those are the two main claims, but they are not the only ones because this summer’s fires have brought to light the complaints of firefighters and unions who claim they do not have the optimal human or technical materials to attend to emergencies. They even denounce the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that some of those that exist are not adapted to current regulations because they are old and dangerous for the physical integrity of professionals.
Although the Infoca has 3,500 workers (the Amaya agency exceeds 5,000), they are not enough to form the checkpoints for large fires or to carry out the prevention tasks that are necessary in times that are not those of high risk of fires. . Since the labor reform prevents temporary contracts, the Andalusian Government has chosen to turn seasonal workers into discontinuous permanent workers, which does not solve the problem of the lack of personnel outside the most dangerous period in terms of fires that extends between June and October. From November to May, there are neither firefighters nor sufficient personnel to prepare the countryside and forests for possible catastrophes such as those that have occurred in Sierra Bermeja (Málaga) in the last two years.
For this reason, from the sector they have mobilized on several occasions in recent months with different acts depending on the union, in order to pressure the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of watching over the Infoca. Now, with the change of portfolio to Sustainability, a margin is given for Ramón Fernández-Pacheco to take into account his claims and close the gap between the Andalusian Government and these professionals specialized in fighting forest fires. However, they warn that they will be mobilized if the regional budgets do not include the items to set personnel throughout the year or to pay the seniority of the workers.
They remember that it is a commitment made by the current Andalusian government when it was in opposition, but that it has not yet been carried out. Although the outgoing Ministry said it was investing everything possible to improve the situation and excused itself that in three years they could not have reversed what the PSOE had done in previous mandates, this argument did not convince the sector and it is not going to do it either if it is the one that chooses to choose the Ministry of Sustainability.
Workers “on the edge”
They are not going to ignore it because the fires that have occurred in Andalusia in recent times have pushed the workers to the limit, according to what they themselves denounce. Due to incomplete checkpoints and poorly trained personnel when they joined just days before the fires broke out, the situation of the Infoca is not idyllic. In fact, last year we had to mourn the death of one of these professionals who was contracted seasonally in the devastating Sierra Bermeja fire, a practice that the firefighters want to put an end to in order to bet on stabilization. In addition, the fires, especially those in Malaga, have put at the center of the problem that Andalusia, due to the drought, is increasingly exposed to emergencies of a greater nature and worse prognosis.
From the new portfolio, official sources assure that they will analyze “all the proposals, including, of course, those of Infoca, which will be developed throughout the new legislature that started just a few weeks ago.” However, they also choose to point out what has already been done in budgetary matters: “The Budget of the Emergency Plan for Forest Fires of Andalusia Plan Infoca has been increased by 4.5% (increase of 7.7 million euros) , with increases in the 3 budgets of the Infoca Plan (2019, 2020 and 2021) and maintenance in the 2022 Extended Budget”.
“Infoca is being reinforced through an Ordinary Public Employment Offer of 528 places, and another extraordinary one of 710 places, for the stabilization of the Device (in total: 1,238 places). The maximum allowed by Law has been reached in the rates of replacement of personnel in the Infoca”, they say in Sustainability about the workforce. At the same time, they assure that “an unprecedented modernization of material means has been carried out”, even providing geolocators to the Infoca troops “to guarantee their physical integrity” during the fires.