Chapter 2

Introduction

2.1        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 the dispute.

Key players in the Victorian firefighting dispute

2.2        The key players in the dispute are:

Country Fire Authority

2.3        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.[1]

2.4        The CFA has 1220 brigades that service over one million homes, protecting 3.3 million Victorians.[2] It is responsible for fire and emergency services (outside the metropolitan fire district) on private property throughout Victoria including:

2.5        As at 30 June 2016, the CFA's workforce included 1086 career firefighters and more than 57 116 volunteers (of whom 35 796 are operational firefighters).[4]

2.6        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 personnel.[5]

2.7        The Country Fire Authority District Map in Figure 2.1 indicates the division of Victoria into CFA districts.

2.8        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 2.1—Country Fire Authority District Map

Figure 2.2—Volunteer and integrated brigades in Victoria[6]

Figure 2.2—Volunteer and integrated brigades in Victoria

Source: Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria, www.vfbv.com.au (accessed 22 September 2016).

2.9        The CFA has a nine member board appointed by the Minister for Emergency Services.[7] Four of the members are nominated by the VFBV to ensure there is volunteer knowledge on the board.[8]

2.10      The committee heard evidence from current and former senior CFA officers at the public hearing in Melbourne.

United Firefighters Union

2.11      The UFU has eight branches in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, ACT, New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and an Aviation sector branch.[9]

2.12      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.

2.13      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.[10]

2.14      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 Melbourne.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria

2.15      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.[11]

2.16      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)

2.17      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 [2009]; this includes its surge capacity, the local knowledge of its members and its rapid response.[12]

2.18      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:

2.19      Section 6F, 6G, 6H and 6I of the CFA Act are reproduced below:

Section 6F

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.

Section 6G

The Parliament recognises that the Volunteer Charter—

  1. is a statement of the commitment and principles that apply to the relationship between the Government of Victoria, the Authority and volunteer officers and members; and
  2. requires that the Authority recognise, value, respect and promote the contribution of volunteer officers and members to the well-being and safety of the community; and
  3. requires 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.

Section 6H

The Authority must, in performing its functions, have regard to the commitment and principles set out in the Volunteer Charter.

Section 6I

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.[13]

Timeline of the firefighting dispute in Victoria

2.20      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 Victoria

September 2013

On 30 September 2013, the current EBA between the CFA and the UFU (agreed in 2010) reached its nominal expiry date but continues to operate.

2014 Victorian
state election

Victorian Labor party promises to hire an additional 350 paid firefighters if elected to government.

2013–2016

Since March 2013, the CFA and UFU have been negotiating a new EBA.

October 2015

Negotiations between the UFU, CFA, and Victorian state Labor government break down.

November 2015

The Victorian government asks the FWC to intervene.

1 June 2016

The FWC makes recommendations intended to resolve the dispute.

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 volunteers.

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 discriminatory.

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 impact volunteers.

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.

July 2016

The new CFA Board and the UFU produce a joint statement of intent affirming the agreement:

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

2.21      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.[14]

2.22      The major agencies responsible for firefighting across Australian jurisdictions are summarised in Table 2.2.

Table 2.2—Agencies responsible for firefighting across Australia

Table 2.2—Agencies responsible for firefighting across Australia

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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