Calls to compensate bushfire volunteers for time off work
Governments and employers are being pushed to compensate volunteer firefighters, who are taking time off work to respond to the NSW state of emergency.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said on Friday that volunteers should receive a government payment to compensate them for taking time off work.
“They can’t continue to just give up, those who, many of them, aren’t being compensated at all, they still had to put food on the table, they still have to pay their mortgage,” Mr Albanese told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.
Mr Albanese said a range of measures could be looked at, including tax breaks, one-off payments or a form of leave payment and support for businesses.
“These people are showing their commitment to their community and to the nation. They deserve, I think, an equal commitment back,” he said.
“They could receive it [compensation] in the form of a payment from the government.”
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) said it had a number of members who have been forced to take annual leave at their own expense to fight fires.
They included a group of Armaguard drivers who have, so far, taken about a week of annual leave at their own cost.
“I understand it is voluntary work, but I still have bills to pay,” one driver told the Herald.
A spokeswoman for Armaguard Group told the Herald the company would reverse the annual leave deductions and ensure the workers were compensated.
“All volunteers will be paid and not have to take annual leave in these extraordinary circumstances,” the spokeswoman said.
TWU state secretary Richard Olsen said in recent days the union has had to fight for members “who have gone to fight fires as companies have been taking pay and leave entitlements from them”.
“The TWU is aware that many companies are reluctant, resisting our claims for provisions in agreements that cover emergency leave,” he said.
“Given the comments regarding the increasing severity and devastation of this bushfire season, I have no doubt that community-minded members will continue to go and fight fires and should be supported by their companies [and] the community and governments should consider their role as well.”
Rural Fire Service Senior Assistant Commissioner Bruce McDonald has said that communities could not be protected without employers’ support of NSW RFS volunteers.
“Volunteers continually dedicate their time to protecting communities across the state and this couldn’t happen without supportive employers,” he said.
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott has also previously urged employers to support employees who are volunteers.
A spokeswoman for the minister said employers were already offered payroll tax exemptions for time taken off by volunteers.
The federal Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter said while the National Employment Standards reflect the long-standing practices of unpaid leave and general protections for involvement in various community activities, such as volunteer firefighting, “There is nothing to stop employers from having workplace arrangements that may provide paid leave to volunteer firefighters in certain circumstances.
“As to payments for the work they perform as volunteers, volunteer firefighters are directed under arrangements put in place by state and territory governments and, as such, it is a matter for states and territories to determine what payments and allowances are provided to volunteers, noting that many already provide volunteers with some allowances.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency in NSW this week.
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