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.
[Further information available at facebook.com/ProtectTheProtectors.]
Revolutions happen only in places with repressive regimes and extreme poverty. They don’t happen in economically advanced, democratic countries like Australia. Most people think this. But is it right? Recent history might seem to suggest so—social revolutions are practically unheard of in the West. There are, however, a number of reasons why revolution in Australia is possible.
The billionaires have had it too good for too long. CEO salaries are up more than 40 percent in a year, while living standards for everyone else are getting smashed. Decade after decade, under both major parties, the rich have gotten richer while everyone else struggles. And the politicians run Victoria like it’s their own private cash machine.
Women’s oppression looks quite different today than 60 years ago. Women’s rights are more accepted now, women are a bigger part of the workforce, contraception and abortion are legal in much of the world. There are more women world leaders and CEOs than ever before. At the same time, the vast majority of women, even in a wealthy country like Australia, are still paid less on average than men, still do most of the unpaid child care and other domestic labour in the home and still have to contend with demeaning sexist stereotypes.
Imperialist occupation has always generated resistance. Time and again, oppressed people have risen up heroically to drive out occupying armies. But heroism isn’t always enough: the politics of the resistance frequently make the difference between victory and defeat.
Western Australian public sector workers will rally at the state parliament on 17 August to demand that wages keep up with the cost of living. The rally, organised by the Public Sector Alliance of nine trade unions, follows several stop-work rallies held at WA hospitals over the last month, involving thousands of health workers.
The whole country is talking about Labor’s Climate Change Bill. But there’s nothing there.