Victorian firefighters win
Victorian firefighters win
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The Victorian firefighters’ union has won a major legal battle against the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB). On 3 November, after months of deliberation, the Fair Work Commission rejected the MFB’s application to scrap the 2010 enterprise agreement it had negotiated with the union.

The MFB had been seeking to have firefighters’ conditions drop to the award, a major tactical advantage in current enterprise agreement negotiations. “Ultimately, we are looking to build an agile and flexible organisation”, MFB chief executive Jim Higgins told the Age after the decision.

Management also has revealed plans to reduce crew numbers by up to 9 percent, depending on weekly weather forecasts.

Speaking to Red Flag, union secretary Peter Marshall said the brigade’s case had political backing. “Under the endorsement and supervision of the Victorian premier Napthine and the federal emergency services minister Mr Mills, the MFB outrageously spent millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on highly expensive lawyers.”

Throughout the 15-day hearing in July, each MFB witness was escorted through the commission by bodyguards. This was an eyebrow-raising precaution given that firefighters were considered the most trusted Australian profession in 2013. The MFB were “attempting to portray firefighters as thugs”, says the union.

Firefighters, in turn, gave evidence against the MFB. The union had to spend $600,000 on the case. Up to 100 firefighters were present each day of the hearing to express their dismay with the MFB executive.

Asked about the lesson to take from this victory, Marshall said: “It’s only with the collective strength of the union that government attacks on employment can be defeated.”

A recent union staff poll showed that 95 percent of firefighters have no confidence in MFB chief officer Peter Rau and 92 percent have no confidence in MFB president Murray Neil Comrie.

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