Why the firefighters’ EBA should not be signed
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Why the firefighters’ EBA should not be signed

There has been much said and published about the CFA in recent months and the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) that is causing concern amongst many in the community over the hotly debated power of veto it provides to the firefighters’ union (UFU) over the CFA.

To be fair to the Premier, new Minister and union, they have said this is a beat up fuelled by the media and Opposition.

I don’t believe it is accurate to say this has been fuelled by the media and Opposition, as while the issue has received massive state-wide coverage, it has become a story largely because of the concerns of others.

To justify this, it is worth recapping on how this all started and marking some key points in time.

The issue commenced when the Labor Minister for Emergency Services, Jane Garrett, said she would not sign the EBA.

After working on it for well over a year she agreed it was “very unsatisfactory”, adding that she believed it provided veto powers over the CFA, would impede the CFA in doing its work and gave too much power to the union – that from the Labor Minister who went over the document with a fine toothed comb over long period.

This created significant media is how it all started. Although the media reported it, it was not the media or the Opposition that got the ball rolling.

We have also had the former chair of the CFA, Mr John Peberty; the former CFA chief executive Lucinda Nolan (whom this current government appointed) stating their view – and that of their legal advisors – was that the EBA greatly disadvantaged the CFA.

Mr Peberty went on to say “there are around 50 clauses that provide power of veto”.

We then also had Jack Rush QC, who assisted the Bushfires Royal Commission, say after he had carefully considered the EBA, that “the ability for the CFA to run their own show will be completely lost”, that it “threatened to strip away the independence of volunteer brigades” and concluded by saying “the whole ethic of volunteering is under threat”.

Then we had the CFA’s own legal advice that the proposed deal breached state equal opportunity laws. This advice came from the person who has since been appointed the State Government’s own Crown Counsel. On top of this, the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has said 12 clauses are discriminatory.

Former Labor Minister, Andre Haermeyer, said many of the demands in the current dispute were Trojan horses that would sideline CFA volunteers and undermine their interests. And former Federal Labor Minister, Gary Johns said “The Victorian Labor government called the agreement reform: anyone else would call it a union takeover.”

If all that was not enough, just a few weeks ago the CFA Chief Fire Officer, Joe Buffone, resigned and stated "I've walked away from a job that I love and that I'm committed too. Pay was the last thing on my mind. The core concerns about veto and the role of the chief officer were never addressed, it basically puts me in an untenable situation. Ultimately it [the deal] has the potential to affect public safety."

During the last sitting week in Parliament, several of the over 50 clauses that are causing concern were discussed. Space prevents listing all the areas of concern, but here is a snapshot: • 15.1 and 16.1 – requiring that changes to structure and roles in the brigade administrative and volunteer support services must be agreed by the UFU; • 41.1 – requiring the CFA hand over all access of its email system and database to the UFU and that the UFU will have unrestricted use of it; • 42.1 – requiring all CFA policies affecting employees can be made or varied only with UFU agreement; • 51.6.5a, 51.3, 147.1 and 183.3 provides that the CFA cannot employ operational staff on a part time casual basis unless the UFU agrees; • Schedule 20 requiring the uniforms and workwear for all CFA operational staff must be agreed by the UFU

The Premier, new minister and union will dispute several of these points, however the fact remains that this government has been told this agreement either unfair, flawed unworkable or illegal by the former Labor Minister and current Labor MP (Jane Garrett), the now sacked former CFA Board, the former CFA chief executive that Labor appointed (Lucinda Nolan), Jack Rush QC, the current Government’s Crown Counsel who provided advice to the CFA (Melinda Richard), the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the recently resigned CFA Chief Officer, Joe Buffone (and many others including former Labor MPs).

Our professional firefighters do a great job on fire grounds. I was not pleased that they doorknocked thousands of homes for Labor and had hundreds of members man polling booths for Labor (which they openly state), but I have no issues with giving them a deserved pay rise or improved working conditions, for the job they do in fighting fires, saving lives and protecting assets.

These people and groups mentioned above highly credentialed, educated and informed. Despite the allegations from either side of politics or the media, their concerns alone are enough to suggest this agreement cannot be signed in its current form and needs more work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016