Australian Firefighters Score Major Victory

United Firefighters Union (UFUA) Over Country Fire Authority (CFA)

CFA at work

CFA at work

The Federal Court in Australia recently  overturned an earlier lower court decision governing staffing in the Country Fire Authority which is responsible for emergency response across the state of Victoria excluding areas covered by the Melbourne Fire Brigade.

CFA is roughly comparable to California’s CAL FIRE though smaller in size and area protected.

The UFUA brought the suit to enforce an existing labor agreement.

Peter Marshall, National Secretary of the UFUA reported that his members won on all points including staffing, no contracting out, allowances and dispute resolution.

The dispute was centered over the hiring of 326 additional firefighters and protections of  minimum staffing requirements which CFA agreed to and then backed away from after a change of government at the state level.

The Australian Constitution positions states to retain power unless it is specifically delegated to the federal government.

While the CFA had, in fact, delegated some aspects of labor relations to the feds, they maintained that the area of staffing decisions was not delegated and remained under their control.

The Full Bench of the Federal Court rejected CFA’s contentions.   CFA had agreed to the staffing provisions and agreed to have the provisions certified by the federal Fair Work Commission.  As a result, the state’s powers had not been undermined.

CFA as Constitutional Corporation

A controlling aspect of the case was that the federal court determined that because the CFA charges fees and receives income from some service areas that they are a corporation.  This meant that specific legislation that limits what states refer to the commonwealth did not apply.

Indeed, other case law makes it clear that the feds cannot impinge on state decision making where staffing is concerned.  But because the CFA (a state agency) had agreed to the provisions the state’s capacity to function as a government had not been infringed.

The bottom line is that the court held that the UFUA/CFA staffing agreements were entered into by the CFA (and therefore the State)  voluntarily and were therefore valid and enforceable.



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