CFA volunteers could end up in a political cross-fire early in this fire season.
DELWP forest firefighters are in dispute with the government over wages and conditions, and have placed part work bans on planned burns.
The government has said it will use ‘other workers’.
What if CFA volunteers are asked to be the ‘other workers’ or to be standby or back-up crews? How to respond?
CFA volunteers respond to all requests for emergency assistance, and rightly so.
All 000 calls and strike team requests should be and will be honoured. So picking up the pieces after a ‘planned disaster’ is just part of the everyday job of a CFA volunteer.
But what is a right response if CFA volunteers are asked in advance to be part of a pre-organised team to back-up non-union DELWP ‘fire-lighters’?
If volunteers agree, and act as de facto strike-breakers or scabs, that is an improper use of volunteers and could poison the relationship between forest firefighters and the 38,000 operational CFA volunteers.
It also means that burns may be done with inadequate crews and patrolling, with a more likely breakout effect.
Recently, Lancefield is an example of a burn which ‘got away’, probably due to inadequate patrolling and follow up.
If volunteers elect to not be connected to planned burns by inexperienced non-union crews, that very action may cause the government to rethink the use of unskilled labour in the dangerous work of planned burning.
The best option is for each volunteer to search his or her conscience and decide whether or not to become a pawn in what is basically a political struggle.
John Nieman, Monbulk.