SUBJECTS: The Fair Work Amendment (Respect for Emergency Services Volunteers) Bill 2016, Country Fire Authority,
FRAN KELLY: Michaelia Cash is the Employment Minister, Minister welcome back to breakfast.
MINISTER CASH: Thanks so much Fran and good morning to your listeners.
FRAN KELLY: Minister you want to change the Fair Work Act to protect volunteers and workplace agreements.
Why is this legislation even needed?
Beyond the Victorians dispute, what evidence do you have that volunteer organisations are being subjected to hostile union takeovers?
MINISTER CASH: As the volunteers in Victoria have told me, what the EBA or certain clauses on the EBA are going to do is undermine the ability for CFA volunteers to act autonomously, as we all know they have done successfully so for 60 years.
The Volunteers have said the UFU, the United Firefighters Union, will have much greater control over the operations of the CFA than currently exist.
FRAN KELLY: Let’s talk about that, last night I watched you in an interview and you did struggle a bit to explain how the EBA in Victoria would struggle to help the CFA workers, I am sure you know it well, I am sure you know it backwards, can you point to how a volunteer firey would be disadvantaged, would be worse off.
MINISTER CASH: The proposed enterprise agreement - there have been a number of iterations of the agreement and it has changed over time.
In terms of the current enterprise agreement that is on the table it contains a number of terms that are not favourable to or discriminate against volunteers.
FRAN KELLY: Like what?
MINISTER CASH: Volunteer fire brigades Victoria say it would dictate the operation and resourcing of fully volunteer fire brigades.
If you then look at specific clauses in the agreement, professional firefighters can’t start firefighting until seven professionals are dispatched to the scene.
In the original agreement that was actually on the fire ground - it has been changed to ‘dispatched’.
Four professional firefighters must be on every truck for a fire, unless otherwise agreed.
This is the real issue that the volunteers have raised with me, professional firefighters can only report to other professionals.
That’s a fundamental change in terms of how fires are managed.
FRAN KELLY: When I did interviews with the chief fire officer and others previously they said that that was not a requirement.
MINISTER CASH: No it is a requirement and if you go to clause 35.4 of the agreement it sets it out.
Fran I think, one of the more important things is, one of the more offensive clauses and this is where the volunteers are very upset, is union agreement will be required to change policy, that includes policies that effect volunteers and obviously changes to matters set out in the agreement.
But I think in particular, for sixty years the CFA volunteers have acted autonomously under the Act of Parliament that set them up in Victoria.
This is a proposed change to the way they have operated, it clearly gives the UFU much greater control over the operations of the CFA and that is what they are so upset about.
FRAN KELLY: There is another way of looking at that though, you can say it was set up for 60 years, yes that is true.
This agreement might be for the professional firefighters who also as Paul Biongiorno pointed out who put their bodies on the line and fight fires and it gives them a chance to say that how they are working is not working properly and gives them a chance to say…
MINISTER CASH: I disagree with you Fran. Can I make it clear, there is no dispute amongst the volunteer firefighters and the paid firefighters in terms of pay or anything like that.
The volunteer firefighters absolutely accept that the paid firefighters get what they get, there is no dispute there.
I want to make that clear, I don’t want you to think that this is setting up paid firefighters against volunteers. They have successfully worked side by side.
What the agreement does is in terms of the volunteers, it gives the UFU much greater control.
Why is union agreement needed Fran, in terms of policies that affect volunteers?
FRAN KELLY: Minister, I understand that there might be a lot of questions around the EBA but the bigger question is what is the Federal Government getting involved for, because this EBA hasn’t been signed yet, it is awaiting a legal challenge in the Victorian Supreme court next month which presumably indicates that the CFA can fight its own battles under the architecture we already have. Why not wait for the outcome of that court case and then see if Fair Work Australia can deal with this?
MINISTER CASH: We made an election commitment to the 60,000 volunteers and we intend to honour that election commitment.
FRAN KELLY: Just because you made a commitment doesn’t mean that it wasn’t populist policy.
MINISTER CASH: Secondly, in terms of the Supreme Court challenge itself, this is fundamentally about the CFA board - and as you know, the original board was sacked and a new CFA board that was put in - is acting consistently within its own legislation, the CFA Act.
The challenge itself is looking at the process, what we are doing in terms of our proposed amendments to section 12 of the Fair Work Act, we are dealing with the terms of the EBA that are offensive.
So our bill deals directly with the source of the problem whereby the Supreme Court challenge is looking at the process.
FRAN KELLY: Okay Minister, we do have the news upon us in one minute, so finally the Government coming to the rescue of the CFA firies like this, is this really the top priority for our Parliament next week, the really most important focus for our economy?
MINISTER CASH: It is an absolute priority issue. Volunteers are the lifeblood of Australia.
Volunteering is in our DNA and we will do everything in our power to ensure that the CFA who have operated successfully for 60 years can go forward and protect - and in particular we are approaching the fire season - they can do what they have done successfully for at least another 60 years.
FRAN KELLY: Michaelia Cash thank you very much for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.
FRAN KELLY: Michaelia Cash is the Federal Minister for Employment.