The Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, has introduced into Parliament his government’s proposed changes to industrial relations laws to ensure that enterprise agreements cannot be used by unions to extend their power over the work of volunteers.
The Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016 aims to do this by expanding the definition of ‘unlawful term’ in the Fair Work Act to include an ‘objectionable emergency management term’.
The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades WA welcomes the proposed changes.
However, it must be noted that without an independent Rural Fire Service, UFU enterprise agreements in Western Australia are managed within government with no independent oversight to represent the volunteers’ interests in the emergency services sector.
Below is an abbreviated version of the Prime Minister’s speech introducing the Bill into Parliament. The full version cab be accessed at
PRIME MINISTER: I move that this Bill now be read a second time.
This first Bill the Government is introducing is the Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016. It honors our commitment to doing all we can to protect Australia’s emergency services from a Union takeover.
Australia’s proud tradition of volunteer firefighting is under threat.
The actions of the United Firefighters Union of Australia have placed the Victorian Country Fire Authority in the position of having to choose between the best interests of its brave volunteers and conceding to the demands of the union.
Obviously, there is a place for unions fairly to represent their members in Australia’s workplace relations system.
However, the UFU continues to demand an unreasonable degree of control over the CFA and its volunteers.
The former CFA Board repeatedly stated it was willing to reach a fair and reasonable agreement, but this call was ignored and the Victorian Government demanded that the CFA accede to the Union’s demands.
For example, the agreement mandates that a minimum of seven paid firefighters are dispatched before the paid firefighters commence firefighting operations.
Other concerning terms in the agreement include:
- providing that paid firefighters can only report to another paid firefighter with the exception of the incident controller;
- requiring Union agreement at integrated stations to cross-crewing of firetrucks by volunteers and paid firefighters;
- requiring Union agreement to workplace changes through the consultation term, including matters that may impact on the use of volunteers;
- requiring Union agreement on the structure of any Volunteer Support Programs;
I note that the agreement is seeking these changes despite the Victorian CFA Act stating that:
‘The Parliament recognises that the Authority is first and foremost a volunteer-based organisation, in which volunteer officers and members are supported by employees in a fully integrated manner’.
The CFA volunteers are the heroes of our regional communities.
They are everyday mums and dads committed to sacrificing their time to protect life and property.
The Union is jeopardising their selfless goodwill.
This Bill will ensure that enterprise agreements cannot be used in a way that permits unions to exert power over the valuable contributions of volunteers.
To do this, the Bill expands the definition of unlawful term in the Fair Work Act to include an ‘objectionable emergency management term’.
Any such terms in an existing agreement will be legally ineffective from the day that the legislation commences operation.
Actions taken under existing agreements before this time will not be affected.
The amendments will also give volunteer organisations a voice, by providing them the right to make submissions to the Fair Work Commission about enterprise agreements covering certain emergency services bodies that could affect the volunteers that they represent.
The amendments have been carefully drafted to only apply to firefighting and state emergency service bodies that are established under a statute, use volunteers and are covered by the Fair Work Act.
The amendments are simple, targeted measures and it is vital that we implement this solution quickly.
I commend the Bill to the House.