Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) has dropped its legal challenge to the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) enterprise agreement in Victoria's Supreme Court. This enables the agreement to be put to CFA employees for a vote.
However, this is unlikely to be the end of the dispute. VFBV is likely to try other means of blocking the agreement.
Under a new law passed by the federal parliament on October 10, groups such as VFBV can intervene in Fair Work Commission hearings to argue against any enterprise agreement for emergency service workers that is claimed to adversely affect volunteers.
In reality, the CFA enterprise agreement will have no adverse effect on volunteer firefighters. On the contrary, the requirement for management to consult the United Firefighters Union (UFU), which represents professional firefighters, about issues such as equipment, uniforms and training, will make firefighting safer for volunteers as well as professionals.
But VFBV has played a major role — along with the Liberal Party and the media — in a propaganda campaign against the agreement. VFBV, which claims to represent all volunteer firefighters associated with the CFA, says the enterprise agreement would result in a “takeover” of the CFA by the UFU. The Herald Sun has had more than 20 front page stories attacking the agreement in sensationalist style, claiming it would endanger the state. The Age, while less extreme in tone, has also campaigned against the agreement.
Some volunteer firefighters have spoken out against this scare campaign. But many other volunteers, particularly those in small rural fire stations who have little or no contact with professional firefighters and the UFU, have been misled into opposing the agreement.
If VFBV’s intervention in the Fair Work Commission hearing succeeds in blocking the agreement, the UFU may take the issue to the High Court, arguing that the new law is unconstitutional.