The article below highlights some of the challenges that have come to our Victorian colleagues as a result of political deals done with a union at the expense of common sense. We hope the situation is resolved soon and volunteer morale doesn’t fall any further. Emergency Services are simply too important and Australia’s hundreds of thousands of emergency service volunteers are too valuable to be divided as a result of greed and political powerplays.
VICTORIA’S Country Fire Authority is set to be split into a volunteer-only force protecting rural areas with career firefighters to service urban areas.
After months of speculation, Emergency Services Minister James Merlino is expected to announce the CFA restructure this Friday.
The restructure appears to be driven by a desire to deliver on a union deal with 600 CFA career firefighters.
“Everyone’s talking about it being announced this Friday in the lead-up to this weekend’s ALP state conference,” an insider told The Weekly Times.
It is not known whether the CFA’s career firefighters would be merged into the Metropolitan Fire Brigade or be part of a new service covering outer metropolitan Melbourne and regional centres.
Separating CFA career and volunteer firefighters into two sectors would allow the Government to finally push through its controversial United Firefighters Union enterprise agreement for CFA career firefighters.
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria had campaigned against the agreement, stating it included a raft of clauses that gave the union power of veto over the CFA chief officer’s ability to allocate resources, staff and training that also affected volunteers.
Eventually Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash stepped in, amending the Fair Work Act to strike out any union deals that limited the ability of emergency service organisations to manage and support their volunteers.
Since then Victorian Emergency Services Minster James Merlino has argued the current enterprise agreement is unworkable.
As recently as this week Mr Merlino told a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had placed a “massive roadblock” in the way of implementing the agreement.
The move to split the CFA to deliver the union deal was first raised by a law firm used by the United Firefighters Union last month.
Last month The Weekly Times reported Philip Gardner, a partner at industrial and employment practice Ryan Carlisle Thomas, called for Melbourne’s fire service boundary to be extended and the CFA to be made “a volunteer-only body”.
In an article on the firm’s website, Mr Gardner argued creating separate paid and volunteer firefighting organisations would end the conflict over the CFA’s draft enterprise agreement with the UFU.
“The establishment of a regional and rural-focused volunteer organisation and a separate professional firefighting service for built-up areas is an obvious solution,” Mr Gardner said. “Interestingly, NSW already has such a structure.”
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria has warned pushing out volunteers from urban areas would be disastrous for Victoria.
No one has calculated the cost of replacing CFA volunteers, on Melbourne’s fringe and in regional cities, with career firefighters. But given the CFA’s annual wages bill, each extra career firefighter would cost at least $130,000 a year.
PETER HUNT | The Weekly Times