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Farmers condemn bid to send CFA dispute to High Court

VICTORIAN farmers have condemned the latest turn in the long-running dispute between the Country Fire Authority and United Firefighters Union over volunteer rights, with the union determined to take the spat to the High Court.

The Victorian Farmers Federation has blasted the move to challenge the Federal Government’s amendment to the Fair Work Act on constitutional grounds as disappointing.

“We should all be concerned about the safety of people in rural communities because fire season will be here soon, and the last thing we need is another distraction,” VFF President David Jochinke said.

“The CFA is always ready to go during fire season and it’s vital that we ensure its operations aren’t affected by the enterprise agreement dispute so that this season is no different from previous years.”

The dispute originated when volunteers voiced concerns that an enterprise agreement being negotiated for paid CFA members also included clauses limiting the authority of volunteer members.

The federal parliament last week legislated to amend the Fair Work Act to make it illegal for an enterprise agreement to restrict CFA volunteers from performing their duties.

A High Court challenge rests on the assertion that the Federal Government does not have the authority to intervene in state issues.

The dispute is also being heard in the Supreme Court, which hasn’t returned a verdict, but could send the matter back to the Fair Work Commission to be mediated under the amended Act.

“The CFA is a largely volunteer organisation that serves to protect people living in rural communities, and this dispute is causing division between people who all have the same interests – whether they are volunteers or paid, they want to protect our communities,” Mr Jochinke said.

“Recent media reports have highlighted a culture in the MFB and the UFU that is not compatible with a volunteer organisation adding to concerns with the UFU’s push to gain more control of the CFA.”

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