By Michael Francis Gore
MADRID (Reuters) – About 2,000 forest firefighters demonstrated in Madrid on Saturday to call for improved workers rights in a year when wildfires destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of woodland across Europe.
In Spain, unlike full-time firefighters, those tackling wildfires are employed by regional authorities only to tackle major forest fires at the height of the summer.
Protestors used beaters to bang the ground as they demanded a “firefighters statute” to guarantee workplace rights to recognise injuries suffered while doing the job as occupational hazards.
“We are forest firefighters and we want justice because we are a public service for society,” Cristina Perez, 47, who has worked for 18 years in Aragon, told Reuters in Madrid.
“We want our administrations to recognise this, respect and create the status of forest firefighters.”
Wildfires raging through Europe this summer burned the second-largest area on record, according to data from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre published in August.
A dozen European countries, including Spain, Italy and France, suffered major blazes, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and destroying homes and businesses.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Michael Gore, Silvio Castellanos; Editing by Frances Kerry)