VOLUNTEERS have warned the “fight’s not over yet” in their battle to block Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ bid to split the Country Fire Authority.
The warning follows the Premier’s announcement last Friday that his Government would submit legislation to Parliament stripping paid firefighters from the CFA’s 35 integrated stations and merging them with Melbourne’s metropolitan service to form a new body, Fire Rescue Victoria.
“We will facilitate the CFA being what it should have always been — a purely volunteer service,” Mr Andrews said.
But volunteers fear they will be slowly driven out of CFA stations on Melbourne’s fringe and regional towns by the United Firefighters Union’s desire to extend its reach.
“This will both undermine community safety and cost taxpayers and their households an arm and a leg,” Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria chief executive Andrew Ford said.
He said integrated stations were the most cost-effective way to deliver services as they used career firefighters during the day and relied on volunteers at night.
Losing volunteers from integrated stations means career firefighters will have to be employed to cover night shifts, which means higher staff costs, station upgrades to provide sleeping quarters, gyms, kitchens and union-approved equipment.
Volunteers are calling on Opposition and independent MPs to block the CFA restructure in Parliament’s Upper House.
The Coalition, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, and Democratic Labour Party have lined up behind volunteers, but only hold 19 votes in the 40 seat Upper House.
Volunteers are hoping Western Region independent James Purcell delivers the 20th vote needed to block the Government’s reforms.
But Mr Purcell told The Weekly Times he would wait to see the Government’s legislation before making a decision.
VFBV Western District firefighter Owen O’Keefe said he was seeking a meeting with Mr Purcell to gain his support in opposing the reforms.
“Daniel Andrews is treating volunteers with contempt,” Mr O’Keefe said. “If this goes ahead volunteers will see their work isn’t valued and it will be difficult to maintain numbers.
“But the fight’s not over yet. It has to get through Parliament.”
The Government has also flagged stripping councils of their power to choose which fire service they use.
Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said the Government would establish an independent Fire District Review Panel to determine future changes to areas covered by FRV and CFA.
The CFA restructure is seen as allowing the Government to redraft and deliver its controversial United Firefighters Union enterprise agreement with CFA career firefighters, which was opposed by volunteers and blocked by the Federal Government. Other aspects of the restructure include:
INTEGRATED brigades will be split into a paid firefighter FRV brigade and a separate CFA volunteer brigade, “co-located” in the existing CFA facility.
FORMER CFA training instructors, community safety education managers, communications and protective equipment staff, and training and district mechanical officers will be transferred to FRV then contracted to CFA.
IT IS not clear whether FRV career firefighters will be allowed to report to volunteers acting as sector commanders and strike team leaders during a major fire.
IT IS not clear if volunteers will be offered the same level of training as they do now.
WHAT VOLUNTEERS ARE SAYING
Willow Grove CFA volunteer captain
with 35 years service
“This (CFA split) came out of the blue. Under the CFA Act, they’re (the Government) meant to consult us, but we haven’t heard from anyone. Volunteers in Morwell and Traralgon (integrated stations) say they’re very disillusioned and are talking about leaving. I’m in the process of writing to my MP.”
Warrandyte North volunteer CFA captain with 40 years service
“I don’t want to see volunteers downgraded in the new structure. At the moment we have access to the same training as career firefighters on breathing apparatus, structure fires and other training. It would create a major problem for the public if volunteers lose access to that training and we have a second-grade (CFA) service.”
Winslow CFA volunteer with 40 years service
“I’m just disappointed and sad the Andrews’ Government has caved in to the union’s demands, without any consultation with volunteers. The union will use this to slowly take control of other places. Everyone will have to pay more as costs go up.”
Strathkellar volunteer and Dundas Communications Officer with 40 years service
“I’m aghast it came in (the CFA split) without consultation. There’s nothing wrong with reviewing the fire services, but they’ve ignored the 60,000 volunteers who deliver the service. It will be very hard to manage. I’ve lost track of the chain of command.”
PETER HUNT | The Weekly Times | May 23, 2017 10:00pm