Malcolm Turnbull introduces new laws to ‘protect’ CFA volunteers from fire fighters’ union

Malcolm Turnbull introduces new laws to ‘protect’ CFA volunteers from fire fighters’ union

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says changes to the Fair Work Act will ensure emergency services volunteers are protected from union influence.

Mr Turnbull unveiled new legislation today in response to the bitter Country Fire Authority dispute in Victoria.

The new legislation will amend the Fair Work Act, and strike out any parts of enterprise agreements which interfere with an emergency services organisation's ability to manage and promote its volunteers.

It will also invalidate any terms that are inconsistent with the state and territory laws that govern such organisations.

"What it will do it will make it unlawful to include a term in an enterprise agreement which undermines or disables the ability of that organisation to work with its volunteers," Mr Turnbull said.

Mr Turnbull said CFA members put their lives on the line all too often, and the new legislation recognised that.

But the move has angered Victoria's Emergency Services Minister James Merlino, who is accusing the Federal Government of a "political stunt".

"I don't know [Employment Minister] Michaelia Cash, but today she admitted she hadn't read the proposed agreement," he said.

Mr Merlino said provisions were already in place in the CFA's new workplace agreement to protect volunteers, and comments that career firefighters were required on the scene before volunteers could start fighting a fire were "incorrect and fear-mongering."

"They continue to spread lies about how the agreement will work and on that basis the party of WorkChoices wants to amend the Fair Work Act," he said.

"There is a specific clause protecting volunteers, we've got the CFA coming out and saying volunteers are not affected, we've got the chief officer saying his powers are not affected, we've got the emergency management commissioner saying volunteers are not affected by the seven on the ground.

"It is time to end this dispute, stop this political farce."

The PM made the fight between CFA volunteers and the fire fighters' union a key part of his election campaign in the state, promising to act on the matter as a priority in the new Parliament.

Communications Minister and Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield said the Government was optimistic the legislation could pass the new Senate.

'CFA works well, they should leave it alone'

Senator Fifield told the ABC the proposed amendment sent a clear message to the Victorian Labor Government.

"This is a really important piece of legislation, we took it to the election, to make clear that what the Andrews Government is seeking to do by giving union control over the CFA isn't something that we could allow to pass," he said.

"What the Victorian Government is seeking to do is to hand control of 60,000 CFA volunteers to the United Firefighters Union (UFU).

"The CFA has served and protected Victorians for over 70 years and what the Andrews Government is seeking to do is destroy the culture of the CFA, is to mess with one of the great fire fighting organisations.

Opposition spokesman Brad Battin said he welcomed changes to the Fair Work Act, and said workplace agreements should comply with state laws.

"The CFA Act states that the volunteer organisation of the CFA is a volunteer organisation first, supported by career firefighters and you can't take away the authority or power of those volunteers," he said.

"We welcome Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's announcement of new legislation to ensure any EBA in Victoria complies with our state acts.

Under the new laws, volunteers will also be given the power to make submissions to the Fair Work Commission about any agreement negotiations — something they currently cannot do.

Tensions first began when talks over wage and conditions between the CFA and UFU broke down in October last year, prompting the intervention of the Fair Work Commission at the request of the Victorian Government.

Among the recommendations, handed down on June 1, was the non-binding call for a minimum of seven professional firefighters be dispatched to incidents "before commencement of safe firefighting operations".

The CFA board voted against the proposal — saying it had 14 areas of concern about the agreement, including that some clauses may be unlawful — but they have since been sacked and Victoria's Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett has resigned from Cabinet.

In June, Mr Turnbull promised to make the CFA legislation the "first item of business" for the new government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told PM in June it was a state issue.

Malcolm Turnbull introduces new laws to 'protect' CFA volunteers from fire fighters' union.  Available from <>. [First posted 

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

You must be Logged in to post a comment.