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Tuesday, 25 October 2016 10:18

Important Update for all Volunteers Featured

NOTE TO MEMBERS – 25 October 2016 - Download Media Release Here                                       

IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR ALL VOLUNTEERS

In the last few weeks VFBV has achieved major breakthrough in the long running dispute flowing from the CFA/UFU enterprise bargaining deal (EBA) that undermines the volunteer based nature of CFA, impacts on the way volunteers are supported and work, and overrides CFA decision making including on matters impacting on volunteers.   

VFBV has successfully campaigned for and achieved a change to the Federal Fair Work Act that protects volunteers and ensures the volunteer nature of CFA cannot be undermined by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement between CFA and the UFU.  The Federal Fair Work Act changes were approved by the Senate on 10 October with support from all Coalition and cross bench independent Senators other than Senator Lambie from Tasmania, and have been given Royal Assent which confirms them as law as of now.

The changes to the Fair Work Act apply to the current EBA negotiations and also all future CFA EBAs.  This means that VFBV has also achieved the outcome being pursued in the Victorian Supreme Court.  Our core claim in the Supreme Court was to achieve a declaration that it would be unlawful for CFA to enter into the proposed 2016 CFA/UFU EBA because of clauses that contradict and override the CFA Act - the changes to the Federal Fair Work Act now disallow this in federal law.   

As a result, yesterday we reached an agreement with the CFA to draw a conclusion to the Victorian Supreme Court Action.  VFBV is of the view that CFA should revisit the EBA given the changes to the Fair Work Act but instead of testing this in the State Supreme Court it will now be a matter to be tested in the Fair Work Commission under the new arrangements which make it unlawful for the EBA to include arrangements that restrict or limit CFA's ability to:

  • Engage or deploy volunteers
  • Provide support or equipment to volunteers
  • Manage its relationship with or work with any other emergency management body in relation to its volunteers
  • Manage it operations in relation to volunteers
  • Consult with volunteers
  • Or require or permit CFA to act other than in accordance with the powers, functions and duties conferred or imposed on CFA by the CFA Act in relation to volunteers.

This doesn’t mean our legal action is over completely but it does make the path ahead clearer.  Instead of continuing our costly legal action in the Victorian Supreme Court, the focus of our advocacy and legal action will now shift to the Federal sphere and play out in the Fair Work Commission and from there the Federal court system if required.  We will also be freed up to focus on potential challenge to the Fair Work Amendment in the High Court of Australia as threatened by the UFU.  At the Federal level we will not be alone – the Fair Work Commission now has clear rules to follow which protect emergency service volunteers; the Federal Employment Minister has also committed to challenge the EBA at the full bench of the Fair Work Commission if required, and if the matter goes to the High Court then the Federal Government will have a keen interest in defending the robustness of their legislation.

The change to the Federal laws (Fair Work Act) now achieves what VFBV have been seeking from the Victorian Supreme Court.  Our efforts from here on are better devoted to ensuring the federal arrangements for protecting the future of CFA hold firm, working to ensure CFA and others are focussed on supporting and strengthening volunteerism for the benefit of future generations and getting on with protecting our communities. 

It was never our wish to be held up in a protracted court case.  We think VFBV and volunteers can now set the scene by proactive leadership to ensure CFA remains a strong and successful volunteer based organisation where paid staff and volunteer work side by side for the benefit of the communities we serve. 

The Supreme Court action has been fundamental in our efforts to prevent the CFA and UFU using the loophole that previously existed in the Fair Work Act to enable the CFA Board to enter into an EBA that we say is beyond the lawful intent and powers of the CFA Act.  The CFA will no longer be able to use this loophole.   Our action in the Supreme Court has been costly and resource intensive.  VFBV greatly appreciates the support and monetary donations that have made the Supreme Court action possible.  A big thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign to date.

There is still a possibility that further legal action might be required given that the UFU have claimed they will challenge the Fair Work Act amendment in the High Court and there is also real possibility that VFBV will need to defend the rights of volunteers in the Federal sphere so we will continue fund raising to support our legal action and further campaign efforts.

VFBV will also be arranging detailed briefings for every VFBV District Council to explain the success achieved by the change to the Fair Work Act, the outcomes achieved by our Victorian Supreme Court Action and the work remaining in the Federal sphere.  VFBV will be working hard with CFA and Government to provide the leadership required to ensure CFA remains a great place to volunteer and an organisation ready to serve communities.  There is a lot of work to do, and with summer on our door step we want to get on with it as quickly as possible.

SUMMARY OF CHANGES TO THE FAIR WORK ACT

The changes to the Fair Work Act make it unlawful for organisations such as CFA to have EBA arrangements that restrict or limit CFA’s ability to:

  • Engage or deploy volunteers
  • Provide support or equipment to volunteers
  • Manage its relationship with or work with any other emergency management body in relation to its volunteers
  • Manage it operations in relation to volunteers

The changes to the Fair Work Act prohibit the CFA from having EBA arrangements that require CFA to consult or reach agreement with any other person or body before taking any action regarding the things listed above.  The changes to the Fair Work Act also disallow the CFA from having EBA arrangements that restrict or limit CFA’s ability to recognise, value, respect or promote the contribution of CFA volunteers to the wellbeing and safety of the community.  And the changes prohibit the CFA from having EBA arrangements that require or permit CFA to act other than in accordance with the powers, functions and duties conferred or imposed on CFA (ie by the CFA Act) in relation to volunteers.

The changes also enable VFBV to make a submission to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) when matters before the FWC affect, or could affect, CFA volunteers.  To date VFBV has been locked out of any ability to raise concerns in the FWC even when matters contained in the CFA/UFU EBA directly impacted on volunteers.

Read 20766 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 December 2016 10:41
CFA Volunteers are the unpaid professionals of our Emergency Services. VFBV is their united voice, and speaks on behalf of Victoria's 60,000 CFA Volunteers.

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