Compensate Volunteer Firefighters �
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In August 2019, Australia began to experience the largest and most ferocious bushfires in a century, in nearly every state and territory, concurrently. Almost five-months later, these fires are still burning, destroying 3,700,000 hectares of land, destroying more than 2,500 structures (including homes, sheds, etc.) and have been the cause of nine fatalities (at the time of drafting).
These fires are unprecedented, and while the causes of the fires might vary between arson, an accidental spark, or a lightning strike, the severity of the drought and the effects of climate change has undoubtedly contributed to them being the worst fires this country has seen in terms of size and ferocity.
The politics of the fires can, and will be debated later. However, right now, there are tens of thousands of volunteer firefighters all over Australia who have sacrificed so much to fight these fires, and who are doing it using their own leave, their own money, and own time.
We know that these amazing human beings do not do it for the money, however, given that these fires have been going for so long, and with no end in sight, is it right that they should have to sacrifice all of their leave, or a salary they would have gotten from their own businesses, or that they have had to use their own money to cover petrol, food and other items that they need to fight the fires every day?
In order to ensure that no volunteer firefighter is disadvantaged by the time taken off work to fight these fires, and to make sure that they know every single Australian is so grateful for their brave and selfless work, we request that the following be implemented by both state/territory and federal governments to ease the burden on the volunteer firefighters
1. Immediately amend all industrial awards and employment contracts to include provision for reinstating leave credits for employed volunteer firefighters. Reimburse employers for all leave entitlements taken specifically for fighting fires, so that the volunteer firefighters have all of their leave reinstated on their return to work.
2. A tax-free, one-off bonus payment for each volunteer firefighter for each day of service, based on how many days each volunteer contributed to fighting the fires. This is not a payment for services, but a thank you from the taxpayers of Australia to be used on a holiday and to reimburse any out of pocket expenses incurred during their firefighting duties.
3. Nominate all the volunteer and career firefighters in all states and territories for a collective Australian of the year award, and hold ceremonies all over Australia where each volunteer and career firefighter is given an Australian of the Year medal. Volunteer firefighters already get a fire services medal, but we cannot think of any individual that is more deserving to be nominated as the Australian of the Year than each and every person who has risked their lives so relentlessly to fight these fires.
4. Introduce legislation to protect the employment rights of volunteer firefighters, such as a “Volunteer Firefighter’s Protection Act”.
5. Agree to provide long-term funding to fire services all over Australia. Upgrade fire trucks, provide more uniforms, and ensure that all firefighters have adequate equipment and machinery to fight fires.
The funding should come from both state/territory and the federal governments, and we also would like to see big companies contribute, as all our interests have been affected by the bushfires, which would be much worse if the volunteer firefighters all over Australia had not been able to protect us.
There is a COAG meeting coming up in March, but this should be brought forward to start working through the best ways to support the volunteer firefighters and their needs moving forward.
While a bonus payment to volunteer firefighters is a one-off at this time - looking forward - volunteer firefighters should receive a daily allowance to cover costs, so that they are not left struggling to pay bills.
We need to support and encourage the volunteers who risk their lives to protect our lives and homes. The governments (state and federal) have not provided enough funding to the fire services, and it is not good enough. Scott Morrison spent $250m upgrading ‘SharkOne’. If his plane can have that much money spent on it, we can justify spending the money of the fire services that are literally saving our lives.
Photo taken by Daniel Lupton
source Instagram 2019
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