CFA crisis continues: Supreme Court grants interim injuction

UPDATE
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A Supreme Court Judge has granted Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoriaan interim injunction to stop the Country Fire Authority from signing a controversial pay deal until Tuesday.

The ruling was made just hours before the deadline imposed by theState Government.

Premier Daniel Andrewshad given the CFA board until 5pm to sign the agreement with the United Firefighters Union or risk being sacked.

Justice Michael McDonald said he would grant the injunction and adjourn the case until Tuesday, June 14, at 2:15pm.

Justice McDonald said he was “satisfied that there is a serious question to be tried” in regards to whether the volunteers had been adequately consulted on the agreement.

Stephen Donaghue, QC, who was acting for the CFA, did not consent or oppose the injunction.

Stuart Wood QC, representing theVFBV, said the volunteer firefighters’ body had not been adequately consulted on the agreement.

“As we understand things, the relevant minister has had to resign or was possibly terminated and another minister sworn in and the government has directed the authority [CFA] to sign the agreement by 5pm or run the risk of being terminated,” he said.

The CFA Act requires the CFA and State Government to consult with the volunteer body on the EBA.

EARLIER

The CFA board has been given an ultimatum –it has until 5pm to accept the controversial deal with the firefighters’ union or face dismissal.

The ultimatum was delivered on Friday afternoonby Deputy Premier James Merlino, as he was announced as a replacement for former Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett.

The ultimatum was delivered on Friday afternoonby Deputy Premier James Merlino, as he was announced as a replacement for former Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett.

EARLIER

The government will ram through the controversial enterprise agreement with theUnitedFirefighters Union.

The drawn-out deal has divided some volunteers and led the to the resignation of embattled emergency services minister Jane Garrett.

Following Ms Garrett’s resignation the cabinet formally accepted the Fair Work Commission recommendations but added “safeguards for volunteer firefighters” intothe agreement.

It hasinsertedclausesthat clearly specify the role of volunteers and theservices they provide and states they are not altered by the EBA.

Police minister Lisa Neville said the government has unanimously chosen to reach an agreement.

She said the government had negotiated additional clauses that would assure volunteers the work they currently do would not be impacted.

The government has given the following answers to the listed concerns raised by the CFA:

Diversity

Mr Andrews said a statement of joint intent between the CFA and the UFU would be created to ensure theagreement would not override the National Employment Standardsaround requesting flexible working arrangements .

Sevenon the ground

One of the most contentious issues has been the requirement for seven professional firefighters to be dispatched to a fire incident.

“A statement of joint intent between the CFA and the UFU will commit the parties to working together on the rollout of 350 new firefighters and the implementation of the seven on the fireground dispatch model,” the statement says.

Consultation and dispute resolution:

And on controversial consultation and dispute resolution procedures the government will seek a commitment from the parties that “agreement will not be unreasonably withheld”.

“Volunteer and career firefighters have told us they’re sick of being used as a political football – they want this fixed because they want the focus back on fighting fires and keeping their communities safe,” Mr Andrews said.

“I’m not having this drag on for another 1000 days – because that’s not safe, and that’s not fair.”

More to come.

Earlier

Embattled emergency services minister Jane Garrett has resigned from cabinet because she was unable to support the cabinets proposal to end the bitter CFA enterprise agreement dispute.

Premier Daniel Andrews released a statement accepting Ms Garret’s resignation.

“Despite all concerns previously raised by Ms Garrett being addressed, she had indicated she refuses to support Cabinet proposals to end the long-running dispute over the CFA enterprise agreement,” Mr Andrews said.

Ms Garrett has been vehemently opposed to the government’s proposed deal with the firefighters union.

She has shared the CFA and volunteers’ concern that the deal, as it stands, would undermine the role of volunteers and management to do their job.

There is an expectation that the CFA board will also be sacked this morning as the Premier moves to ram through his agreement with the firefighters union.

“It is a disgraceful morning,” Andrew Ford, chief executiveof the Association of Volunteer Fire Brigades told 3AW.

“And very very sad. I can’t believe we are watching this happen”

​Ms Garrett sent a message to Victorians through her twitter feed shortly after her resignation was made public.

“It is has been an extraordinary privilege to serve in my ministerial role which I leave with a heavy heart,” Ms Garrett said.

“And I look forward to continuing to serve the community as the Member for Brunswick.”

Ms Garett’s resignation comes as asenior government minister wasforced to mounta humiliatingretreat after claiming in Parliament key elements of its industrial dealwith the firefightersunion had been cleared by the Fair Work Commission boss.

In the latest debacle capping off a shambolic week for the Andrews government,Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins was forced admit to Parliament thatshe “mispoke” after claiming Fair Work president Iain Ross had said the deal would improve diversity in the fire services.

“In an attempt to summarise complex issues for the benefit of the house I paraphrased in a way that unintentionally overstated the President’s comments,” Ms Hutchins said.

After a crisis meeting in Premier Daniel Andrews’ office on Thursday afternoon,Ms Hutchins has written an apology to Mr Ross, which he has accepted.

And in a sign that the industrial standoff with the CFA continues, the board said it hadlegal advice from a senior counsel that “unlawful terms” remain in the latest version of the deal and it would not sign.

That followed a finding from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that key elements of the deal breach diversity laws.

Cabinet is set to meet on Friday to discuss the finalised role of Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley’s role overseeing the implementation of the controversial deal.

But others in caucus are angry at the government’s handling of the entire chaotic week.

“What does it look like to volunteers? The IR minister has had to recant. A minister can’t even read a two minute statement and get it right,” a caucus source said.

“It is pretty poor to see ministers taking pot shots at each other,” another said.

Labor is hoping that the dispute will be resolved this week. Otherwise, the government will be forced to resort to a “plan B” option likely to involve sacking the CFA Board.

Following question time where Ms Hutchins said she had been given assurances that the agreement would not damage diversity,Opposition industrial relations spokesman John Pesuttospoke to Mr Ross and was told nosuch assurances had been given.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy accused the government of trying “every tactic in the book” to force the CFA board – including verballingMr Ross. He said under the precedentsof the Westminster system Ms Hutchins should resign.

Ms Garrett was grilled in parliament by the Opposition.

“The board and the CEO agree with me and this government that we want a resolution to this dispute that supports both career and volunteer firefighters,” she said.

Before question time Mr Andrews said he was “very, very positive” the government was making progress.

“We are making real headway, real progress and I am just so determined, so determined, to make sure that we get a good outcome for volunteers, for the career firefighters, because unless we do that, we’ll be compromising the safety of our state,” hesaid.

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