This chapter provides a background to the firefighters' dispute in
Victoria. It begins by outlining the key players in the dispute, provides an
excerpt of the Volunteer Charter enshrined in the Country Fire Authority Act
1958 (Vic) (CFA Act), and sets out a brief timeline of the key events in
Key players in the Victorian firefighting dispute
The key players in the dispute are:
the Country Fire Authority (CFA);
the United Firefighters Union (UFU); and
firefighting volunteers represented by Volunteer Fire Brigades
Country Fire Authority
The CFA is a statutory body established under the CFA Act. It delivers
prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and organisational support
services for fires and other emergencies in outer metropolitan suburbs,
regional and rural areas of Victoria.
The CFA has 1220 brigades that service over one million homes,
protecting 3.3 million Victorians.
It is responsible for fire and emergency services (outside the metropolitan
fire district) on private property throughout Victoria including:
60 per cent of Melbourne's suburbs;
all provincial cities and towns; and
all country areas.
As at 30 June 2016, the CFA's workforce included 1086 career
firefighters and more than 57 116 volunteers (of whom 35 796 are
The vast majority of the 1220 CFA fire stations are staffed entirely by
volunteers. However, 35 non-metropolitan fire stations in peri-urban areas of
Victoria—outer metropolitan Melbourne and major regional cities where the
service demands are higher than in less densely populated regional and rural
areas—are integrated: that is, they are staffed by both career and volunteer
The Country Fire Authority District Map in Figure 2.1 indicates the
division of Victoria into CFA districts.
The integrated firestations to which clause 77.5 (previously clause
83.5) of the EBA applies (see chapter three) generally surround Melbourne in
districts 2, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, and 27. Integrated stations to which clause 77.5
will apply will include Shepparton and Mildura by no later than 1 January
2017 and Warrnambool by no later than 1 January 2018.
Figure 2.1—Country Fire Authority District Map
Source: Country Fire
Authority, www.cfa.vic.gov.au/contact/ (accessed 22 September 2016).
Figure 2.2—Volunteer and integrated brigades in Victoria
Source: Volunteer Fire
Brigades Victoria, www.vfbv.com.au (accessed 22 September 2016).
The CFA has a nine member board appointed by the Minister for Emergency
Four of the members are nominated by the VFBV to ensure there is volunteer
knowledge on the board.
The committee heard evidence from current and former senior CFA officers
at the public hearing in Melbourne.
United Firefighters Union
The UFU has eight branches in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, ACT,
New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and an Aviation sector branch.
The UFU represents just over 1000 career firefighters in the CFA in
Victoria. In 2010 the Victoria Branch of the UFU negotiated the CFA UFU
Operational Staff Agreement 2010 which was subsequently certified in accordance
with the FW Act.
That agreement expired in 2013. For the past three years the Victorian
Branch has been bargaining a new agreement with the CFA and the Victorian state
government with the involvement of the FWC. The proposed EBA would cover
approximately 1200 CFA operation staff including firefighters.
The committee received submissions and heard evidence from both career
and volunteer firefighters from the integrated brigades at the public hearing
in Macedon, as well as from the UFU leadership at the public hearing in
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria
The VFBV is established under the CFA Act to represent volunteers on all
matters that affect their welfare and efficiency. Under the CFA Act, the VFBV
nominates four members of the CFA Board.
The committee received submissions and heard evidence from volunteer
firefighters from across rural and regional Victoria at the public hearing in
Macedon, as well as from the VFBV leadership at the hearing in Melbourne.
The Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)
The 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission recognised the contribution
that volunteers made to the CFA:
The strength of the CFA volunteer base was evident on 7
February ; this includes its surge capacity, the local knowledge of its
members and its rapid response.
As noted earlier, the CFA is constituted and operates under the Country
Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) (CFA Act). The CFA Act also accords statutory
recognition to the role and voice of volunteers in the CFA. In 2011, the
Parliament of Victoria enacted the Country Fire Authority (CFA) Amendment
(Volunteer Charter) Act 2011 (Vic) which amended the CFA Act by adding four
new sections (6F, 6G, 6H and 6I) to the CFA Act to:
recognise the CFA as primarily a volunteer organisation supported
by employees; and
require the government and the CFA to, amongst other things:
recognise the role played by volunteers;
consult with the VFBV over matters that affect volunteers; and
develop policy and organisational arrangement that strengthen
volunteer capacity to provide services to the CFA.
Section 6F, 6G, 6H and 6I of the CFA Act are reproduced below:
The Parliament recognises that the Authority is first and
foremost a volunteer-based organisation, in which volunteer officers and
members are supported by employees in a fully integrated manner.
The Parliament recognises that the Volunteer Charter—
- is a
statement of the commitment and principles that apply to the relationship
between the Government of Victoria, the Authority and volunteer officers and
that the Authority recognise, value, respect and promote the contribution of
volunteer officers and members to the well-being and safety of the community;
that the Government of Victoria and the Authority commit to consulting with
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Incorporated on behalf of volunteer officers
and members on any matter that might reasonably be expected to affect them.
The Authority must, in performing its functions, have regard
to the commitment and principles set out in the Volunteer Charter.
The Authority has a responsibility to develop policy and
organisational arrangements that encourage, maintain and strengthen the
capacity of volunteer officers and members to provide the Authority's services.
Timeline of the firefighting dispute in Victoria
The negotiations over the proposed Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA)
have been ongoing since March 2013. Table 2.1 provides a summary outline of key
milestones in the firefighting dispute in Victoria.
Table 2.1—Timeline of the firefighting dispute in
On 30 September 2013, the current EBA between the CFA
and the UFU (agreed in 2010) reached its nominal expiry date but continues to
Victorian Labor party promises to hire an additional
350 paid firefighters if elected to government.
Since March 2013, the CFA and UFU have been
negotiating a new EBA.
Negotiations between the UFU, CFA, and Victorian state
Labor government break down.
The Victorian government asks the FWC to intervene.
1 June 2016
The FWC makes recommendations intended to resolve the
The FWC specifically notes that the requirement to
dispatch seven career firefighters to an incident only applies to the limited
number of integrated fire stations.
6 June 2016
The CFA rejects the proposed EBA.
The CFA argues the EBA would give the UFU the power to
veto operational decisions by the Chief Officer and undermine the role of
The CFA receives legal advice that certain clauses in
the EBA appeared to be unlawful in terms of the CFA Act, and that the EBA was
10 June 2016
The VFBV successfully applies for a Supreme Court
interim injunction to prevent the CFA putting the EBA to career firefighters
(until 23 June).
The court order also stipulates the parties are to
meet on 20 June to talk about issues in the proposed pay agreement that might
10 June 2016
The Victorian Government accepts the FWC's
recommendations as a basis for agreement and inserts additional clauses
protecting the position of volunteer firefighters.
The Victorian Government appoints Emergency Services
Commissioner Craig Lapsley to oversee implementation of the agreement
particularly in relation to volunteers.
10 June 2016
Victorian Emergency Services Minister, the Hon. Jane
Garrett MP resigns. Ms Garrett expresses concerns the new agreement would
encroach on management decision-making and the role of volunteers. Ms Garrett
does not accept the state government's proposals (based on the
recommendations from the FWC) to end the dispute.
The Victorian government begins the process of
dismissing the CFA Board over its refusal to agree to the new EBA.
17 June 2016
The Victorian government appoints five new members to
CFA Board. The VFBV nominates the remaining four Board members.
The new Chair, Mr Greg Smith, is a former FWC deputy
president and had portfolio responsibility for the CFA.
17 June 2016
The CFA CEO Lucinda Nolan resigns.
19 June 2016
Four volunteer representatives nominated by the VFBV
appointed to the CFA Board.
20 June 2016
The Victorian Supreme Court issues orders requiring
the CFA and the VFBV to meet and discuss the volunteer firefighters' concerns
with the proposed agreement on 8 July. This prevents the CFA putting the
agreement to a ballot of employees until 23 July.
28 June 2016
The CFA Chief [Fire] Officer Joe Buffone resigns.
The new CFA Board and the UFU produce a joint
statement of intent affirming the agreement:
only applies to the small number of integrated fire stations
with paid and volunteer firefighters;
does not require seven paid firefighters on the ground before
firefighting begins; and
incident controllers maintain their authority in deploying
12 August 2016
The new CFA Board endorses the EBA and authorises the
CEO to put it a vote.
13 August 2016
The VFBV again rejects the agreement and claims the
EBA contains clauses contrary to the CFA Act.
The VFBV seeks a further court injunction to secure an
undertaking from the CFA that the EBA will not be put to a ballot until the
Supreme Court makes a decision on the agreement's legality in a trial
beginning 22 September 2016.
2016 Federal election
The Coalition expresses strong support for the CFA and
the VFBV during the election period.
31 August 2016
The Coalition Government introduces the Fair Work
Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016.
Sources: Victorian Government,
Submission 1, p. 8; Department of Employment, Submission 2, pp. 3–4;
United Firefighters Union, Submission 54; Fair Work Commission, Final
recommendation, United Firefighters' Union of Australia v Country Fire
Authority, 1 June 2016; Julian Teicher, Professor of Human Resources and
Employment, School of Business and Law, CQ University, 'Turnbull steps in as
promised, but don't expect a swift end to firefighter dispute', The
Conversation, 25 August 2016; Julian Teicher, 'What's the Victorian
government's dispute with the CFA about? And how will it affect the election?',
The Conversation, 29 June 2016; Workplace Express, 'Court restrains CFA from
proceeding with agreement', 17 August 2016; Workplace Express, 'New flare-up
looms in CFA dispute', 9 August 2016.
Agencies responsible for delivering firefighting services across Australia
Individual state and territory governments are responsible for
delivering emergency services. While all Australian jurisdictions have their
own rural fire service:
Most jurisdictions divide responsibilities for delivery of
fire services between several agencies based on the discrete function of the
organisation and the geographical area, although the structure and
responsibilities of individual agencies varies across jurisdictions.
The major agencies responsible for firefighting across Australian
jurisdictions are summarised in Table 2.2.
Table 2.2—Agencies responsible for firefighting across
Source: Colleen Bryant, Understanding
bushfire: trends in deliberate vegetation fires in Australia, Australian
Institute of Criminology, January 2008, in National Farmers Federation, Submission
7, pp. 8–9.
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