Victorian government considers fire service changes

The Victorian Labor government is considering a restructure of Victoria's fire services, according to a report in the May 9 Herald Sun.

Victoria has two fire services — the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA). The boundaries between the zones covered by these two bodies have not been changed for many years. With the expansion of Melbourne, many outer suburbs are covered by the CFA. So too are large towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo.

While CFA stations in rural areas are run by volunteers, CFA stations in urban areas have both paid firefighters and volunteers.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV), the organisation claiming to represent volunteers, has a leadership that is very hostile to the United Firefighters Union (UFU), which represents professional firefighters.

Last year, after a long campaign of protest action by the UFU, and after the sacking of both the CFA board and emergency services minister Jane Garrett, the state government agreed to sign a proposed CFA enterprise agreement that included provisions for consultation with the UFU over a range of issues, including equipment, uniforms, training, etc.

The Liberal Party, the media and VFBV launched a campaign claiming this amounted to a “union takeover” of the CFA. The re-elected federal Coalition government passed a law restricting consultation provisions in emergency service enterprise agreements. The new law also gave volunteer organisations such as VFBV the right to intervene in enterprise agreement negotiations.

This law has, up to now, prevented the proposed CFA enterprise agreement from being signed.

One proposal reportedly being considered by the Victorian government is to change the boundaries between the CFA and MFB zones, so that the CFA zone no longer includes any urban areas. The CFA would be volunteer-only, while all paid firefighters would be employed by the MFB. This would remove the ability of VFBV to intervene in enterprise agreement negotiations for paid firefighters, making it easier for an agreement acceptable to the UFU to be signed.

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