Firefighters challenge Liberals' scare campaign

Issue 
United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall.

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) has produced a TV advertisement responding to a scare campaign against a new enterprise agreement for firefighters employed by Victoria's Country Fire Authority (CFA). Anti-union forces claim the agreement will damage the CFA and undermine its ability to fight fires.

Participants in the scare campaign include the Herald-Sun, with numerous alarmist front page stories; the slightly less strident Age; the Liberal Party; the former board of the CFA, which was sacked by the state government for refusing to sign the agreement; and Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria.

The latter organisation claims to represent volunteer firefighters, though some volunteers have criticised the scare campaign. Volunteer firefighters have spoken at UFU rallies.

Opponents claim that the new enterprise agreement gives the UFU a veto over the decisions of the CFA. This is not the case. The agreement requires that consultation occur on matters relating to the employment of career firefighters. If no agreement is reached, the issue can be referred to the Fair Work Commission.

Opponents also claim the agreement means that volunteers cannot start fighting fires until seven career firefighters arrive. This is false. The agreement says that in areas covered by one of the 34 "integrated" CFA stations — staffed by a combination of career firefighters and volunteers — seven career firefighters should be dispatched to a fire. It does not say that volunteers have to wait until the career firefighters arrive. Volunteer-only CFA stations are not affected by this requirement.

The Liberals have made the CFA enterprise agreement an election issue, with Malcolm Turnbull promising to intervene to "protect" volunteers from this supposed threat by changing the federal Fair Work Act. The Liberals have also set up a "Hands off the CFA" website.

The UFU's advertisement can be seen here.

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