Here’s an interesting question, most of which I can’t answer but I’ll make some comments. My correspondent is a volunteer fire fighter in Victoria. She says:
I have some questions, my understanding is that the above bill allows VFBV to be represented when EBAs are negotiated between CFA and UFU, is that correct?
Notwithstanding that, the current EBA is in the Supreme Court due to some clauses that the Volunteer fire fighters think are discriminatory towards them, such as the attendance of 7 paid fire fighters but WHY and HOW did the conflict start in the first place? I have never seen so much animosity between two groups of people working for the same organisation? What is the historical basis of this – is it based on the political backing of Labour on one side and Country/ Liberal party on the other side?
What true safe guards can be put within the institutional setting of CFA to avoid political interference from both parties such as determining the resource allocation based on needs analysis…. I don’t know, it seems a waste of time and a lot of hatred to fight over something that we should not.
The ‘Bill’ to which my correspondent refers to is the now Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Act 2016. The relevant section provides a new s 254A in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) which says:
(1) A body covered by subsection (2) is entitled to make a submission for consideration in relation to a matter before the FWC if:
(a) the matter arises under this Part; and
(b) the matter affects, or could affect, the volunteers of a designated emergency management body.
(2) The bodies are as follows:
(a) a body corporate that:
(i) has a history of representing the interests of the designated emergency management body’s volunteers; and
(ii) is not prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this subparagraph;
(b) any other body that is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this paragraph.
Without tracing it’s history, I imagine the VFBV meets the definition set out in s 254A(2) in which case they are entitled to ‘make a submission’. That is not the same as being represented in the CFA and UFU negotiations, but it does allow them to make a submission to the Commission if the Commission is asked to approve an Enterprise Agreement or make some other relevant ruling.
As for how did the conflict start? I’m a lawyer, not a historian so it’s not a matter that I can properly comment on. Is it based on inherent political views? Again I can’t say for sure but certainly one might infer that the Victorian Labor Government has strong ties with the union movement and the Coalition Federal government has an ideological set against trade unions. As I say it’s not for me to say but I do note the following from the Prime Minister’s Press Release (https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2016-08-31/fair-work-amendment-respect-emergency-services-volunteers-bill-2016). He says:
The actions of the United Firefighters Union of Australia have placed the Victorian Country Fire Authority in the position of having to choose between the best interests of its brave volunteers and conceding to the demands of the union.
What I find interesting is the Prime Minister is setting the matter up as ‘volunteers’ v ‘union’. The UFU represents the interests of its members, the employed firefighters. The VFBV no doubt claims to represent the interests of the volunteers, but the VFBV might also be considered a union (Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth) s 19). So why doesn’t he say that the CFA has to choose between the demands of the VFBV and the UFU; or that the CFA is choosing between the best interests of the brave volunteers and the brave employees? It is certainly representing that the union is something other than the collective representative of the employees and I would infer represents an anti-union philosophy.
As for safe guards to avoid political interference that really isn’t possible. Governments are there to govern and by its nature that is political. The CFA is a government authority – the CFA ‘is subject to the general direction and control of the Minister in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers’ (CFA Act s 6A(1)). As for the Federal Government intervention, Victoria has passed its industrial relations power to the Commonwealth (see The Commonwealth setting terms and conditions of employment for Victorian fire fighters (May 20, 2015)). The Commonwealth government of course has to change its laws when it sees the need to do so. That is also, inherently political. This issue may have been brought to front as it took place during a federal election so of course the parties, in particular the federal government was going to make political mileage out of it. That is what it is to be ‘political’.