Firey Fight: Saving the CFA

27 June, 2016

The Country Fire Authority is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the United Firefighters Union (UFU), but what does it all mean? How did it start? What happens next?

The CFA says it supports a wage increase for career firefighters, but has rejected union conditions put forward in a proposed new Enterprise Agreement (EA), which it feels will marginalise volunteer firefighters.

Talks between the CFA and UFU around the terms of a new EA broke down last October. The UFU is arguing that the issue has become politicised and volunteers will not be affected by the EA. 

The Andrews Government asked the Fair Work Commission to intervene, and the industrial umpire handed down its recommendations on June 1.
Among Fair Work commissioner Julius Roe's non-binding recommendations was a contentious decision that a minimum of seven professional firefighters be dispatched to incidents "before commencement of safe firefighting operations."
But in his recommendations commissioner Roe said the findings would not affect volunteers, because this clause was relevant only to 34 integrated fire stations (those with both professional and volunteer firefighters).

The CFA board voted against the EA, citing 14 areas of concern about the agreement, including that some clauses may be unlawful.
In a statement, the CFA raised fears the EA will undermine volunteers, CFA culture and give the UFU management control of the organisation.
The UFU said it doesn’t want to take work off volunteers, but wants firefighters to be safe and that volunteers acting as incident controllers would still have the capacity to give orders.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he is confident the issues can be resolved, but the proposal needs to be ratified by the Cabinet.
Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett consistently took a hard line against the UFU's demands, but others in the Government have described the Fair Work recommendations as "fair and balanced."
Under state legislation, only the Emergency Services Minister has the power to force the CFA board to sign a new EBA.
Unable to broker a deal, Ms Garrett resigned as Emergency Services Minister on Friday June 10, to be replaced by Deputy Premier James Merlino.
Later that day, Premier Andrews sacked the entire CFA board. CFA CEO Lucinda Nolan resigned a week later.

The VFF has been given assurance from Mr Merlino that volunteers will be fully consulted before the EA is signed.
The issue has become a federal election issue, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vowing to amend the Fair Work Act to protect volunteers if the Coalition retains government at Saturday’s election.

Save our CFA

SIGN THE PETITION HERE

The VFF is calling on all concerned Victorians to put their names to a petition calling on the State Government and CFA to stand their ground and not sign the draft 2015 Enterprise Agreement (EA) with the United Firefighters Union (UFU) in its current form. The Union’s absurd demands risk seeing 60,000 volunteers walk away from the CFA and would lead to a massive blowout in the Fire Services Property Levy (FSPL) that all farmers, country households and businesses pay on their rates bills. The draft Enterprise Agreement is littered with clauses and schedules that give the union power of veto over CFA resourcing and staffing. The VFF is calling on all concerned Victorians to sign the petition, which pledges to call on the State Government and CFA to stand their ground and not sign the draft 2015 Enterprise Agreement (EA) with the United Firefighters Union (UFU) until:  

  • The full cost of the draft Agreement to the CFA and State Government has been independently assessed and made public. This assessment must not only consider the impacts of additional staffing and wage increases, but also the cost of increased allowances, penalties and resources needed to employ existing UFU members, plus 509 additional paid firefighters. 
  • The full impact of the draft agreement on the Fire Services Property Levies that Victorian farmers, households and businesses pay to fund the CFA is independently assessed and made public. This assessment must cover the period up until at least June 30, 2019.  
  • All clauses are removed from the agreement that restrict the CFA Chief Officer and board from exercising their right to recruit, direct and allocate staff to where they are needed. (The draft agreement currently states the CFA must employ another 509 career firefighters by June 30, 2019). 
  • All clauses are removed from the agreement that force the CFA to gain UFU approval to employ casual and part-time staff, allocate resources and appliances. As it stands the CFA must gain union approval (on a case-by-case basis) before any casual or part-time staff can be employed, which acts as a major barrier to women working as paid CFA firefighters.