Back our CFA volunteers

Country Fire Authority enterprise bargaining agreement

28 April 2016

27 April 2016

Ms RYAN (Euroa) — The adjournment matter I raise this evening is for the Premier. The action I seek is for the Premier to meet a delegation of volunteers from my electorate to hear their concerns about the draft agreement the government is striking with the United Firefighters Union (UFU). Volunteers across my electorate have been horrified to read the details of that agreement, which up until now have been kept a secret.

As we now know, the current version of the enterprise bargaining agreement would give the UFU control over Country Fire Authority (CFA) operations. It proposes to hand the union the power to veto equipment, vehicles and clothing issued by the CFA. It diminishes the role of volunteers, replacing volunteer support staff with paid firefighters. This is a deliberate move by the union to change the CFA from a volunteer organisation supported by paid staff into an organisation run by paid staff and supported by volunteers. It also proposes that union members would report only to other paid staff and not to volunteers when responding to incidents.

The clause that has everyone asking just how clueless this agreement is demands that seven paid firefighters be on a fireground before firefighting starts. Let us think about that for a minute. If a fire starts in Strathbogie, volunteers will have to wait an hour for paid staff to arrive from Shepparton before they are allowed to fight the fire. What an absolute joke! These demands spit in the face of the volunteers in my electorate and across country Victoria who have put their lives on the line to fight some of the worst fires this state has ever seen, including the Black Saturday fires, which affected a large part of my electorate.

I have been fielding phone calls from distressed volunteers since it became public that the Premier intervened in negotiations to put many of these demands back on the table. If these conditions are allowed to go ahead, they will be the death knell of the CFA as a volunteer movement. They will cause irrevocable damage to the CFA and bring an end to one of the greatest traditions our state has.

The Premier should be under no illusion about how strongly communities across my region feel about this. It is a betrayal of the decades of work that volunteers have put in to keep our communities safe. Here are just a few of the things volunteers have been saying to me in recent days. One volunteer said:

This is going to decimate the CFA volunteer system if it is agreed to. Country Victorians need our CFA to stay as it is …

Another volunteer said:

So many of us are CFA volunteers out here. We'd hate to lose our organisation to unions hungry for money and power.

Another said:

This is going to destroy the CFA and lose the volunteers who have put their heart and soul into this organisation.

And another said:

This proposal is outrageous. It seems they have no idea of the extent that CFA volunteers go to in protecting homes, land, livestock and, most importantly, lives …


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