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Wednesday, 15 June 2016 00:00

VFBV Requests for Meaningful Consultation

MESSAGE TO ALL MEMBERS

This update is to provide you information concerning VFBV’s attempts to enact the provision of the CFA Act and Volunteer Chart that obligate the State of Victoria to genuinely consult with volunteers through their representative body (VFBV) on any matters that may affect them, before decisions are made.

•             The State Government has not accepted a single one of VFBV’s requests to meet and discuss our concerns to date

The chief demand of the VFBV throughout the CFA-UFU negotiations has been that we must be included in meaningful consultation with the Government and the CFA over the content of the EBA as it may affect volunteers. This demand is simply for the rights of volunteers to consultation – to be heard and views considered based on volunteer knowledge and experience - on matters that may affect them as specified in the Volunteer Charter and given legal force by the CFA Act.

Meaningful consultation means that we would be given the details of those matters, have the opportunity to fully assess them from the perspective of volunteers, consult with our membership and help shape the final words in discussion with the relevant decision makers to ensure volunteer interests are represented and protected.

From the outset we have made very clear that we have no wish to discuss or voice a view over pay, allowances, leave, and other conditions applicable to individual paid firefighters. In our view, they are properly matters between CFA as the employer and the UFU representing paid staff.

But as we have seen from past operational staff industrial agreements, there is an increasing tendency to include matters in UFU-CFA EBAs which affect volunteers in regard to support, availability of adequate training, equipment, volunteer rights and the way in which we deliver CFA services to Victorians.

We have also witnessed increases in union power over a variety of CFA management and leadership matters under UFU EBAs that are supposed to be matters that are the strict role of the CFA Board, CFA CEO and, importantly, our Chief Officer. Volunteers are both directly and indirectly affected by the establishment of greater union influence and power over such matters.

For example, the issues of determining staff numbers and rank allocation of paid staff to brigades, appliance staffing and operations on the fireground, including reporting relationships are, under the CFA Act, matters under the control and responsibility of the Chief Officer. Yet the Chief’s power to determine these matters is reduced, and in some aspects eliminated under the terms of recent EBAs. In other words, an EBA registered under the federal industrial Act incorporating changes in the organisation and operation of CFA in accordance with the Union’s agreement trumps those established by Victorian law, in our case the CFA Act and,where relevant, the Emergency Management Act. As we have previously advised, we understand that the drafts of the proposed 2016 EBA contain clauses that go well beyond the union’s influence and powers under any previous EBA.

It is these aspects of the proposed EBA that we wish to be consulted upon and in turn consult with brigades and their volunteers in a meaningful way to inform and help shape any EBA related decisions by Government and the CFA to reflect volunteer concerns.

We wrote to the Premier and Minister for Emergency Services on 30 May 2016, outlining our concerns over the then proposed 2016 EBA. In that letter we advised that we had sought to pursue our concerns in conferences of the Fair Work Commission but that our application to participate based on the interests of volunteers affected by the proposed agreement had been denied. Finally, we proposed three simple amendments to the agreement that might significantly alleviate our concerns. The following day we wrote to each member of Cabinet seeking meetings to discuss our concerns over issues contained in the then draft of the proposed 2016 EBA. Only a handful of ministers have replied with courtesy letters referring us to the Minister for Emergency Services.

Following recommendations by Fair Work Commissioner Julius Roe regarding a further draft of the EBA incorporating minor changes and his further recommendations for minor change we again wrote to the Premier (and Deputy Premier in his role as acting Premier) and the Minister for Emergency Services.

In our letters to them dated 7th June we urgently requested that they initiate consultation with VFBV on behalf of Victoria’ 60,000 CFA volunteers on any matter that may affect volunteers (in the EBA) prior to any relevant decisions being made. A letter of request for consultation in similar terms was also submitted to CFA on the same day.

The following day we received an acknowledgement of our correspondence signed by the Premier and Minister for Emergency Services sent from the Premier’s Office. Their letter stated in part:

We understand you wished to be informed of developments around the proposed CFA enterprise agreement and have asked Emergency Management Victoria and the Department of Premier and Cabinet to make arrangements to meet with you about this.

This response failed to understand, deliberately or not, that there is a major difference between the meaningful consultation we had sort as per the legally binding Volunteer Charter and merely being informed of developments.

It was then determined to arrange for our solicitor to send legal communication to both Government and CFA to make absolutely explicit the terms and manner of immediate consultation required and undertakings that there would be no decisions on the EBA until the completion of consultations in accordance with the Volunteer Charter and the CFA Act.

We gave them until close of business on Thursday 9 June 2016 to respond to our letter.

CFA responded within the due time saying they would abide by the CFA Act (and therefore the Volunteer Charter) once they were in receipt of the final version of the EBA for consideration.

At the time of writing we have received no further response from the Victorian Government to our requests.

Attached to this circular are copies of the following letters for your information and that of other volunteers:

  1. VFBV letter to Premier dated 30th May 2016
  2. VFBV letter to the Premier dated 7th June 2016
  3. Premier (and Minister’s) acknowledgement, undated but received 8th June 2016
  4. RobinsonGill representing VFBV letter to Premier dated 8 June 2016
  5. RobinsonGill representing VFBV letter to CFA dated 8 June 2016

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Read 13233 times Last modified on Monday, 25 July 2016 10:59
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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