Firefighter union ‘deeply concerned’ CFA pay deal will be ruled out by Fair Work

Union secretary Peter Marshall speaks in June at a firefighters’ rally over the EBA dispute. Photo: Justin McManus The state government says Fair Work is the best place to sort out the dispute. Photo: AFR
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Fresh doubts have been cast on the workplace deal for the CFA’s paid firefighters after their union said it was “deeply concerned” the industrial umpire would rule the proposal invalid.

United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall told his members and Labor MPs on Thursday that if the proposed agreement was passed by members then the federal government would move to have it ruled illegal.

The union’s decision to delay a vote has renewed questions about whether the agreement will affect the role of volunteers.

In response to the latest uncertainty, the Andrews government has said the Fair Work Commission is the best place to sort out the dispute.

After the July 2 election the federal government changed workplace laws to make sure volunteers were not disadvantaged in emergency service agreements.

For more than a year, the volunteers’ association has warned that the CFA workplace agreement for paid staff would undermine their role.

The deal, which has been signed off by the state government and the CFA after months of political pain – including the resignation of minister Jane Garrett and CFA officials – was due to be put to a vote of union members soon.

Mr Marshall said requests to the CFA from union lawyers to add new protections had been dismissed.

“The UFU has acted in good faith with the Andrews Labor government and respectfully requests that the agreements which have been made are honoured in full,” he said.

Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has written to the CFA outlining dozens of breaches of workplace law in the proposed EBA, saying the Commonwealth would fight against the deal at the Fair Work Commission.

State Emergency Services Minister James Merlino accused the Turnbull government of treating firefighters as “political footballs” and deliberately dragging out the dispute.

“The Victorian government, CFA and firefighters are united in our desire for this long-running dispute to end,” he said.

Mr Marshall warned that if key clauses were removed it could mean a “significant loss of entitlements for employees”.

Shadow emergency services Minister Brad Battin said the union email on the matter was “effectively an admission that this will affect the volunteers in our state”.

Throughout the debate, the union has maintained that the workplace agreement, backed by the Andrews government, improved firefighter and community safety.

The CFA said it would continue to talk with the union over the impact of the new federal laws on the deal.

“There is no doubt these legislative changes have heightened the uncertainty career firefighters have faced over recent times as well as causing further delays to finalising the EBA,” CFA chairman Greg Smith said.

He said the organisation was working to resolve the matter.

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