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Issue # 1402      11 March 2009

Dangerous ground in WorkChoices replacement legislation

The Rudd government’s new workplace laws threaten the entitlements of professional firefighters. The United Firefighters’ Union wants the Senate to amend the legislation to ensure that flexible working arrangements to be allowed under the government’ s Fair Work Bill do not lead to a disparity in working conditions that would undermine hard-won firefighter entitlements.

Unchanged, the bill could open the way for the employment of part-time officers to replace full time positions, employees working different rosters and the loss of some full-time benefits.

Roster threat

The union says provisions in the bill about flexible working arrangements could change the “four days on, four days off” roster (the 10/14 roster) that allows the 24-hour staffing of fire stations.

“This could lead to a disparity of working conditions amongst firefighters and potentially reignite some of the most significant industrial disputes of Australian firefighting history,” said the union’s submission to the Senate inquiry into the Fair Work Bill.

Wage and conditions equality

There appears to be nothing in the Fair Work legislation that would prevent firefighters from being employed part-time or on a roster different from the current award. The union’s submission says it wants to ensure that “equality of wages and conditions in the firefighting industry is preserved”.

The union said it must also be involved in any decision about flexible hours for firefighters as it appears the legislation as it stands makes this something the employer can unilaterally decide.

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