05 Oct 2018 • Herald Sun, Melbourne (General News)
by Tom Minear And Anthony Galloway

REVEALED The bullying, threats and sexism the UFU wanted to keep secret

VICTIMS of bullying and harassment in Victoria’s fire services have broken their silence to reveal shocking incidents reported to an investigation that is now to remain secret.

Current and former Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade staff say they feel distressed and let down by a Court of Appeal ruling yesterday upholding a United Firefighters Union push to suppress the report.

The Herald Sun can reveal the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s review of fire services culture was inundated with horror stories, including:

HARASSMENT of fire services bosses at home – rats were put in letterboxes;

HARASSMENT by firefighters of female colleagues featured in recruiting material; and

WARNINGS to female public servants not to go to meetings with UFU boss Peter Marshall after allegations that he had berated and threatened people.

Mr Marshall has consistently denied wrongdoing, and said yesterday’s Court of Appeal ruling was “vindication” for the union.

The UFU’s industrial control of the fire services – and the belief of some of its members that they “can’t be sacked” – are believed to be central to the commission’s findings.

One victim, reacting to the court decision last night, told the Herald Sun: “We’ve put ourselves on the line, and it’s all for nothing.”

VEOHRC commissioner Kristen Hilton was “extremely disappointed” the stories of thousands who had given evidence to the inquiry would not be heard.

The UFU urged members not to participate in the review, and sought an injunction last December.

Yesterday’s ruling found VEOHRC could legally probe organisations only at their request, not at that of the Department of Justice.

Court president Justice Chris Maxwell and Phillip Priest said VEOHRC must be restrained from proceeding with the review or publishing any report of it; Justice Pamela Tate dissented.

It is understood that Ms Hilton had briefed the fire services on her report.

The commission heard the UFU behaved as “a law unto themselves” and was accused of impeding efforts to increase gender diversity. A non-operational staffer spoke of feeling like “a pig going out to slaughter”, talking about equality at fire stations.

A separate union commissioned survey of firefighters, released by Mr Marshall yesterday, found almost a third had been bullied. Of those, just 7 per cent felt a complaints process was fair. Another third said they had been discriminated against, including more than half of women surveyed.

MFB chief officer Dan Stephens said “cultural issues” must be addressed, and asked any staff who’d experienced “unacceptable behaviour” to come forward.

Mr Marshall said the UFU was working with the MFB and CFA to provide “a safe, inclusive and supportive workplace culture”.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the government had worked to drive “significant cultural change”; however, he could not comment on the court ruling. But shadow attorney-general John Pesutto urged an appeal.

Ms Hilton said VEOHRC was considering its options.

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