Earlier this year firefighters employed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) voted to endorse the proposed enterprise agreement that had been agreed on by MFB management and the United Firefighters Union (UFU).
This followed a long campaign by the union for an agreement that would protect workers' rights. UFU state secretary Peter Marshall told Green Left Weekly the agreement was endorsed by the "overwhelming majority" of firefighters.
Now the Fair Work Commission (FWC) is holding hearings to decide if it will approve to the agreement. This is one of the many obstacles the convoluted industrial relations system puts in the way of workers seeking to defend their rights.
The federal government sought to have the hearing conducted by the full bench of the FWC, rather than a single commissioner. This was rejected, but the attempt delayed the whole process.
Now the hearing has begun, the federal government is opposing the agreement on the grounds it supposedly gives too much power to the UFU. Marshall described this intervention as a "political stunt".
Head of Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Kristen Hilton is also opposing the agreement, claiming restrictions on part-time work in the agreement discriminate against women.
Marshall told Green Left Weekly this claim is false. He said the agreement facilitates part-time work for those workers who genuinely require it.
However, he said "we don't want part-time and casual work to become the norm", pointing out that firefighting, as a "24/7 emergency service", needs "continuity in service delivery".
Marshall said Hilton's intervention is "irresponsible" and questioned whether it is motivated by genuine concern or by a desire for "self-promotion".