MFB attack on firefighters ‘outrageous’, says union

The Victorian Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) has abruptly halted enterprise agreement negotiations with the firefighters’ union by mounting a legal attack on firefighters’ existing conditions. The MFB is trying to scrap the firefighters’ 2010 enterprise agreement and return important conditions and entitlements to award levels.

“There’s $66 million cut from the fire service budget, and at the same time we are seeing MFB senior management use the money the community has paid for fire protection against firefighters”, says the secretary of the United Firefighters Union (Victoria), Peter Marshall.

Speaking to Red Flag, Marshall described the application, lodged at the Fair Work Commission on 28 March, as “an attempt by the MFB to avoid the legitimate bargaining process”. The union says the application came without warning or discussion. “It’s an outrageous application”, he says. “The MFB willingly entered into an enterprise agreement [in 2010] and are now trying to undo it, and that is just simply wrong.”

The case is expected to be heard by the commission within weeks. The acting CEO of the MFB, Russell Eddington, has publicly spelled out the organisation’s rationale for the legal manoeuvre: “Terminating the agreements would allow the organisation [the MFB] to revert to the consultation requirements under the firefighters’ modern award rather than the arduous and impractical requirements currently in place.”

Marshall says that a win to the MFB would have significant ramifications for firefighters and the public. There would be “no minimum staffing – which means less protection for the community”.

“It would mean that many protections that firefighters enjoy in relation to equipment and uniform will be reduced to the very bare minimum, and many entitlements that enable firefighters to provide certainty to their families will be removed or reduced.”

Meanwhile, the union says that cuts to fire services funding are damaging the service. The state government has reneged on its promise to recruit an extra 342 Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters. “Recruiting in the CFA has frozen. There are areas of regional Victoria and Melbourne that are not covered as a result of those cuts”, says Marshall. “There is also ‛rationalisation’ of protective equipment.”

In some regional areas, stations are staffed for limited periods each day. Last month, three stations temporarily closed with no CFA firefighters to staff them. The UFU will be fighting the MFB’s application and is continuing its public campaign against the Napthine government’s cuts.

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