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.