Human rights commission says MFB workplace deal is unfair for women, parents

A NEW pay deal for metropolitan firefighters backed by Premier Daniel Andrews is discriminatory and unfair for women and parents, the state’s human rights watchdog says.

In a sensational intervention application to the Fair Work Commission, set to play out tomorrow, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) argues terms in some EBA clauses will “prohibit or restrict part-time work for operational firefighters”.

Commissioner Kristen Hilton says this would limit equal opportunity within the fire service.

“These terms are unfair and unfavourable towards employees that seek to work part time, including women, parents, people with a disability and carers,” Ms Hilton said.

“They will unfairly limit both men and women’s choices about their roles in parenting and family life, and will actively undermine women’s participation in Victoria’s operational fire services.

“VEOHRC’s role under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 is to identify and eliminate discrimination and to promote equality.”

Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto said it was an “extraordinary intervention by VEOHRC on an agreement which “Daniel Andrews has rammed through and defended at every turn”.

“He must now withdraw this discriminatory agreement and take it to the next election,” Mr Pesutto said.

The EBA was approved by the MFB board early this year, despite serious concerns raised by senior leaders about it limiting the chief officer’s powers.

Concerns had also been raised about whether the agreement would limit diversity within the organisation, but they had been dismissed by the Andrews Government.

The formal intervention application by the VEOHRC is a significant blow to the government, and comes amid a United Firefighters Union legal challenge to the commission releasing a report into gender and diversity in the fire services.

That review was ordered by the government two years ago, but the union has fought it ever since and told members it was “not in members’ interest to participate”.

The Supreme Court threw out the union’s claims last year that the review was “not properly constituted” and beyond the power of the Commission.

However, the UFU has appealed the decision.

Fire services pay deals have caused major political pain for the Andrews Government, and an explosive battle over a new CFA EBA in 2016 was also blamed by some in Labor for hurting Bill Shorten’s bid to be prime minister.

The president of the MFB board resigned after the deal for its firefighters was eventually signed off this year, following the departure over time of several board members, former chief officer Peter Rau, acting chief officer Paul Stacchino, and chief executive Jim Higgins.

Earlier this year the MFB appointed UK firefighter Dan Stephens to take over as chief officer and chief executive, only for the UFU to launch a war against that appointment.

During a radio interview, UFU secretary Peter Marshall suggested he had a secret deal with Mr Andrews, and dodged questions about whether he had a tape recording of the premier.

Mr Andrews denied a secret deal or tape recording existed, and said all his promises to firefighters were on the public record.

The Fair Work Commission will hear the VEOHRC application tomorrow.

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