More than 250 fire trucks and Country Fire Authority (CFA) vehicles have converged on Victoria’s Parliament to protest against the United Firefighters Union (UFU) and its demands in enterprise negotiations.
A rift has developed in the CFA between paid firefighters, represented by the UFU, and Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV).
It stems from proposed changes to their enterprise agreement that would require at least seven paid firefighters at each incident, and would give the UFU veto power in operational decisions.
Andrew Ford from VFBV said the changes would mean the CFA would have to get approval from the UFU before deploying crews.
“Handing over control of CFA operational and resource decision making to an industrial process takes the reins away from CFA,” he said.
“It will destroy CFA volunteerism as we know it.
“The interference of government in due process has significant implications right across Australia.
“We need the rights of volunteers to be consulted on matters that effect them absolutely honoured in a formal and honoured process.”
There were robust discussions before the demonstration began, with a member of the UFU confronting Mr Ford, saying not all volunteers agreed with his position.
But Mr Ford denied the CFA was divided.
“I think you’re seeing today a united CFA,” he said.
No secret meetings, Treasurer says
Volunteers left flowers on the steps of Parliament to show their support for Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett.
“We have volunteers from across the state coming in to show their support for the CFA board, [for the] CFA chief officer and CEO, and for Minister Garrett, standing up for what CFA is,” Mr Ford said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews met with UFU secretary Peter Marshall last week, sparking fears he had overruled his Minister and reached a secret deal.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said no deal had been reached, and rejected suggestions the Premier’s involvement undermined Ms Garrett’s role in the negotiations.
“Essentially the Premier has every right — it’s his right as Premier to participate in discussions as and when he sees fit,” he said.
Mr Pallas said he did not take it as an insult if the Premier became involved in discussions with his portfolio.
“I think the Government is demonstrating that we put this at the front of our mind,” he said.
“We’ve gone a thousand days without a settlement, a thousand days that firefighters have been surrounded in uncertainty around their terms and conditions.
“They have every right to be upset about it and they have every right to expect government to take that to its highest levels to resolve these matters.”
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the Coalition would repeal any laws passed by the Andrews Government that attacked CFA volunteers.
“We will not put up with any Labor government doing over CFA or its proud volunteers simply as a payoff to the union movement,” he said.
“This is a test of Daniel Andrews’ premiership. Who does he back? The greatest volunteer organisation in Australia, the CFA? Or does he back the union over them?”