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Wednesday, 24 August 2016 00:00

The Federal Government’s Volunteer Protection Amendments to the Fair Work Act


Yesterday, Monday 22 August, the Federal Government released its draft legislation, the Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016 in accordance with its commitment made during the Federal Election (you can download a copy of the Bill below).

VFBV was able to provide valuable input to the development of the legislation, and we are very pleased that it has shaped up in a way that we believe meets our concerns and deals with the practical issues affecting volunteers.

The legislation will be a simple change to the Fair Work Act, making it objectionable for workplace agreements to restrict or limit the emergency service organisation’s ability to:

  •          engage or deploy its volunteers;
  •          provide support or equipment to those volunteers;
  •          manage its relationship with, or work with, any recognised emergency management body in relation to those volunteers;
  •          otherwise manage its operations in relation to those volunteers;

The legislation will also provide an ability for volunteers, through bodies such as VFBV, to make submissions to Fair Work Australia in respect of these issues if we have any concerns.

The amendments aim to fix an anomaly in Commonwealth law that affects CFA volunteers and the volunteers of other emergency service organisations covered by the Fair Work Act. The anomaly, which has been of concern over recent months, allows enterprise agreements for paid emergency service workers to override State emergency management laws such as the CFA Act.

For CFA volunteers, the anomaly means that if the proposed UFU agreement was adopted under current Commonwealth industrial law, it would effectively allow industrial interference into the organisation, operation and support of CFA volunteers, and CFA decision making affecting volunteers.

The Federal Government proposes to table the legislation next week, the first sitting week of the new Parliament.  We are hopeful that it will get support from all sides of politics in both Houses of Parliament, and volunteers from Victoria and other States will be working with MPs and Senators to explain the need for, and benefits of, the legislation and the importance of it to volunteers.

The legislation has no impact on pay negotiations, but does provide a mechanism to address the concerns that have been broadly discussed about the current EBA.

The votes of independents and smaller parties may be crucial in getting the legislation through the Senate, and there are some early signs of support.  Newly elected Senator Derryn Hinch has been on radio this morning, expressing his support, and South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has written to the Council of Australian Volunteer Fire Associations (CAVFA), expressing his support for moves to rectify the anomaly, so we are hopeful that this is a sign of support to come.

In the meantime, VFBV’s preparation for the Supreme Court action beginning on 22 September is under way, and one of the most important things Brigades can be doing is helping us promote the fundraising for this initiative, and encouraging people to support volunteers by visiting our website www.vfbv.com.au to make a donation, or fundraising through work with community groups, sausage sizzles and other local efforts.

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews, the new Minister for Emergency Services James Merlino, the CFA Board and management, and the UFU Secretary Peter Marshall, have all made claims that they have no intention of the EBA negatively impacting on the role of volunteers, the provision of support to volunteers or CFA decision making.  As such, we would expect that they have no problem with the proposed Fair Work legislation, and therefore we expect their support also.

We disagree with their assessment as to whether the proposed EBA does or does not impact on volunteers, and as such we see the Fair Work Act legislative amendment as very sensible and very necessary protection for volunteers and the work we do.

Read 19282 times Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 15:24
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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