BULLETIN

Bulletin No:  129                       Volume: 23                17 October, 2017

 To: All UFU MEMBERS

MEMBERS ARE REMINDED OF ALL

SUPPORT AND ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE

 It is important that at times when misguided, political agendas impact deeply on your reputation and dedication to the community, that you remind each and every one of you that the community at large values the work you do in foregoing your quality and quantity of life, by ensuring that they and their families are protected in their time of need.

 Despite the obvious vilification and attempts to lower your standing as firefighters in the public arena, you can be assured that these misguided and ill-conceived attempts by Government and Management have not succeeded. 

 Every time you respond to an emergency, a call for assistance from the public, it goes without saying that you do so performing the ultimate sacrifice in placing your life before others in pursuit of their safety from fire and other emergencies.  The public fully understand the sacrifice and are deeply appreciative of it.

 Additionally, operational staff could not perform their vital functions without the dedication, commitment and support of non-uniform staff.  This we all know.

 The vilification of firefighters has continued in the media today with reports of a leaked survey of CFA PTA staff last year, that the UFU has never seen and was not aware of.

 This public campaign will be taking its toll on members that work hard, and put their lives and health on the line to protect the community.   It may also be causing stress to families and friends.

 Members are reminded that there are dedicated support services available including support services for MFB and CFA members, external support services that are publicly available for everyone, and the UFU’s Welfare Officer.  The details to contact these support services are listed below at the end of this Bulletin.

 The UFU will be calling a Special General Members Meeting

to update members on all current matters.

Details of the Special General Members meeting will be distributed shortly

Yesterday The Age contacted the UFU stating the CFA had “examined internally the impact of UFU practices on issues of bullying and harassment and found the UFU may be responsible for perpetuating seriously inappropriate workplace behaviour”.

 The UFU referred the matter to its legal advisers for response.

 The UFU’s lawyers responded to the Age with the following correspondence:

Dear Mr Baker,

AGE INQUIRY RE CFA REPORT ON BULLYING AND HARASSMENT

We act on behalf of the United Firefighters Union of Australia – Victoria Branch.

 We have instructions to provide the following response from the UFU to your questions. Please ensure that any publication accurately reflect the UFU’s response.

 We are in receipt of your email to our client sent today at 11:08am and are instructed as follows:

  1. We note that you state that “CFA examined internally the impact of UFU practices on issues of bullying and harassment and found the UFU may be responsible for perpetuating seriously inappropriate workplace behaviour.”

 UFU Response

 The UFU is unaware of the internal investigation you refer to.

 There has been no finding against the UFU to our knowledge, nor has there been any application against the UFU via the Court or other processes and as such your information is incorrect.

 The UFU has never condoned bullying and harassment and denies any responsibility for such conduct at the CFA.

  1. How does the UFU respond to allegations it has contributed to a culture enabling harassment, bullying or sexual assault in the workplace?

 UFU Response

We repeat the statement above that there has been no finding that the UFU has contributed to a culture enabling harassment, bullying or sexual assault in the workplace.

 It denies that it has contributed to a culture enabling harassment, bullying or sexual assault in the workplace. Further, the UFU has always been a strong advocate of appropriate workplace practices.

 It is important to note that there has been a concerted campaign in the media against the backdrop of an acrimonious industrial dispute.  This has been a damaging campaign of vilification of firefighters that has no factual basis. Where the consistent media reports have been no more than commentary with no factual basis that has been corroborated.

  1. Will the UFU continue to block the release of the VEOHRC report?

 UFU Response

 As you are aware, this matter is currently before the Supreme Court of Victoria.  It is not correct that the UFU is blocking the report. The UFU filed an application to the Supreme Court as the VEOHRC report into Victoria’s fire services lacks any credibility as the survey underpinning the report was fundamentally flawed, as confirmed by a professor of statistics at the University of Melbourne.

 The UFU submitted to the Court that VEOHRC has not conducted the review within its legislative powers meaning that the review is unlawful.

 Given that the inquiry affects the workplaces of more than 3000 employees, the UFU would have expected due diligence and care to ensure a robust and sound inquiry was undertaken, so that any findings were founded on fact.

 The UFU is on the public record as stating that it supports a properly constituted and conducted enquiry.

 The UFU has taken the matter to the Supreme Court because the review does not meet the most basic requirements of credible research.  The UFU would not usually comment on a matter that is before the Courts, however the recent public vitriolic and factually incorrect attack on the UFU’s actions necessitates a response.

 When viewed in the context of an extensive media campaign to vilify and demonise career firefighters, the UFU took the appropriate action to prevent the release of a report after it was advised by Professor Ian Gordon (from Melbourne University) that the survey undertaken by the

VEOHRC was fundamentally flawed and lacked any credibility. The criticism of the survey included the following:

  1. Anyone, anywhere in the world who could access an email could access and complete the survey.
  • The survey was accessed via an electronic link sent by an open and all-inclusive email.  
  • Anyone could forward the email/link to anyone else.  There was no mechanism preventing the link being shared or emailed anywhere.
  • Therefore, anyone who had no involvement or relationship with the CFA or MFB could have accessed and completed the survey.

  1. Anyone could access and complete the survey as many times as they liked.   There was no requirement for any identification or unique identifier.

The UFU requested Professor Ian Gordon provide his opinion of the nature and administration of the survey. The UFU received a link to the survey and then forwarded that link to Professor Gordon. He accessed the survey himself four times from the same computer.   Professor Gordon wrote an opinion listing “severe concerns” and deemed the survey unreliable and that any results “would not be credible”. Professor Gordon noted:

 “The ability for anyone (who is forwarded the link) to respond, and the possibility of multiple entries from the same respondent, are very serious design flaws, in my opinion. This openness and lack of control of respondents and permission of repeat responses are a temptation to those with strong views, who may be willing to exploit these design loopholes. To make an obvious point: a victim of bullying might fill out the survey many times, to strengthen his or her complaint. Conversely, a perpetrator of bullying could, to protect himself or herself, provide a false response to the survey indicating that he or she has never observed bullying, and, similarly, provide this response many times.  In my view, these defects render the results of the survey unreliable.”

 The above suggests to the UFU that there is no genuine intention to independently or credibly investigate the culture of the CFA or MFB. 

 The UFU has been a long-time supporter of diversity within the fire services, however, the current VEOHRC review has flaws, which means that it has the potential to unfairly damage the reputation and public standing of firefighters.

 The Supreme Court action was taken as a last resort when VEOHRC failed to provide any satisfactory response to the UFU’s queries about the review and after the MFB had blocked a possible conciliation involving the VEOHRC at the Fair Work Commission.

Further, the UFU holds well-documented concerns about the impartiality of VEOHRC given its expression of views in a previous review of a draft of a proposed industrial agreement with the CFA.

The UFU is willing to work cooperatively with VEOHRC if the process is fair for firefighters. The Fire Service is made up of good people, many of whom are family members and have a high standing in their local community as well as within the fire service.

  1. How is the UFU’s own report (done by a university) into these issues progressing?

 UFU Response

The report has been finalised and we have sent correspondence to the CFA and MFB and asking that they cooperate with proposals to address the findings of the report.

  1. Why does the UFU believe multiple inquiries commissioned by the MFB and CFA have found the union is contributing to unacceptable workplace practices?

UFU Response

 Once again, there have been no multiple inquiries that we are aware of, or for that matter any inquiry that has found that the UFU has contributed to unacceptable workplace practices.  

 If you have such information, please provide it to us so that the UFU may provide its comments.

 We reiterate that the UFU is on the public record stating it will work with VEOHRC on the basis that any inquiry is properly constituted and with sound methodology to ensure that any findings are based on fact.

 The UFU denies that it is contributing to unacceptable workplace practices.

 The UFU states again for the record that it supports and has constantly campaigned for proper workplace practices and maintenance of standards to ensure that firefighters and the public are not placed at risk, due to the working environment being an uncontrolled environment with a real risk to loss of life and damage to property. It denies the allegations made against it in unsubstantiated investigations and inquiries of which it has no knowledge.

 The media campaign of vilification has no basis in fact.  

 The UFU takes a strong and proactive approach to promoting safe and diverse workplaces.

 The UFU has initiated and supported a number of initiatives to encourage diversity in fire services, including for example:

  • The UFU’s Victorian Branch was the first fire union in Australia to partner the MFB in sponsoring the first ever fire service diversity conference in Australia. During the conference UFU Secretary Peter Marshall emphasised the need to embrace diversity and match the changes that are occurring in the community.
  • Advertising and marketing strategies to promote firefighting as a desirable occupation for diverse and minority groups.
  • The development of traineeships and qualifications within the Fire Services for socially and economic disadvantaged youth.
  • The creation of day work positions and specialised shift positions to enable more family friendly working arrangements.
  • A legal challenge to artificial barriers in relation to recruit testing that disadvantaged female applicants.
  • Part-time and flexible working arrangements in areas where they are operationally viable.
  • Proposal for joint working parties between the UFU and fire services management to develop strategies to increase diversity.
  • Liaison and inclusion in the UFU – MFB sponsored diversity conference of the UK fire brigade union black and ethnic minority members committee
  • Establishment of a women firefighter’s network and women firefighter’s forum.

Yours faithfully

 Tonia Sakkas

Principal

DAVIES LAWYERS 

As can be seen by the response, the UFU categorically denies the claims and has not seen any credible research or report that supports the allegations being laid at the door of the UFU and its members.

 We are fully cognisant that there may be members that need support at this time.

SUPPORT SERVICES AVAILABLE

As previously notified, there are dedicated support services available including support services for MFB and CFA members, external support services available to everyone, and the additionally the UFU Welfare Officer.

MFB and CFA

Both the MFB and the CFA have support services which members are encouraged to access.  The contact details are as follows:

• For MFB personnel there is 24-hour access to a dedicated counselling service with psychologists by calling 1800 451 138 or 1300 366 789.  If you call this service you can have immediate access to a psychologist via telephone or alternatively make an appointment.  This service is also available for family members.

• Additionally, for MFB personnel there is an extensive peer support programme where a clinician can be accessed by calling 9665 4405 or 0407 665 174 or the Peer Coordinator on 0417 538 289 or 9665 4516.

• CFA members can access Critical Incident Stress Peer Support by calling either the CFA Chaplain Service on 1800 337 068 or the CFA Member Assistance Program 1300 795 711. [Corrected from previous version]

We encourage you to use the above services provided by the MFB and CFA, but if you feel uncomfortable in doing so there are external support services which all can access.

Services available to all:

On the beyondblue website https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ the following support services are listed that are external to the CFA and MFB and that are available to all.

The website has comprehensive information that deals with a range of mental health awareness and the support and help that is available.

The numbers for these services are as follows:

• Lifeline 13 11 14

• Suicide Call Back Services  1300 659 467

• beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636

UFU Welfare Officer

The UFU has an internal and expanded welfare service for current and retired members, using an extremely highly qualified person whose integrity is beyond reproach. We encourage all members to use this new welfare service.

Ross Fusca has been appointed as the UFU’s Welfare Officer. He can provide assistance to members based on his wealth of expertise.

Ross comes to us with thirty years’ experience in law enforcement with the Australian Federal Police, attaining the substantive rank of Detective Sergeant. Within this role, he held the position of Welfare Officer (Victoria and Tasmania), encompassing portfolios including Return to Work Coordinator, Equal Opportunities Officer, Sexual Harassment Contact Officer, Aboriginal Liaison Officer and Regional Mediator.

Over this time, Ross successfully contributed to a safer and equitable workplace, with a number of his recommendations adopted by AFP management.

Ross will also have at his disposal the ability to refer UFU members to independent external services if required.

Ross can be contacted by members confidentially at: ufuwelfareofficer@gmail.com or 0477 884 456.

The UFU does not, and has never condoned inappropriate workplace behaviours. If any member has a concern please contact the UFU office for assistance.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact the UFU on 9419 8811 or Peter Marshall on 0419 127 004.

Strength in Unity
READ OUT AT MUSTER AND PIN ON NOTICE BOARD

Authorised by Peter Marshall, Branch Secretary