Why a Emergency Volunteer Respect Act (EVRA)
Emergency volunteers are not amateurs who step in to save the day. We are the front line of everyday emergency response and recovery, through Rural Fire Brigades, State Emergency Services, Coast Guard, Volunteer Marine Rescue, St Johns Ambulance and more.
Modern emergency volunteers are men and women who train to the highest standards and deal with modern threats, like hazardous materials, burning plastics, fire suppressant foam, terrorist threats and meth labs. In addition to bushfire, cyclone, flood and storm.
We use digital communications, breathing apparatus, chemical suits, defibrillators and infra-red cameras. Run air bases, logistic chains, evacuation centres and meet the emergency needs of our communities to the best of our abilities and beyond.
To put that in context; Australia’s fire services alone have over a quarter of a million volunteers, from the front line to the highest levels of Incident Control, and in many specialist and support roles. Our labour in fire alone is worth billions every year, and that is before we consider the uncountable cost of the lives and property saved.
While the hazards we combat and the methods we use are well into the 21st century, the law’s recognition and protection of emergency volunteers is generation’s out of date, and hard legislation in the form of a Emergency Volunteer Respect Act (EVRA) is the answer.
A Emergency Volunteer Respect Act would provide the legal framework that is necessary to ensure that emergency volunteers keep volunteering well into the 21st century.
It would guarantee emergency volunteers certain legal rights and protections as we go about our duties, consultation on issues that affect us, the resources to get the job done, recognition of skills, and protection for employers and others who support us.
It would give clear direction to State and Federal Governments on all matters, Acts, Legislation, regulations, deeds, contracts and enterprise agreements that at present have negative impacts on volunteers’ rights; the work that volunteers can do; and the opportunity for volunteers to have a genuine and equal say on matters that affect us.
With a EVRA, Parliament can protect and support the volunteers who provide essential modern emergency services, and it can recognise the value of their skills, experience and contribution to the community.
The EVRA must be hard legislation. It’s easy to say thank you, and thanks are certainly due, but real recognition of the value of volunteers, real respect for the expertise and contribution of volunteers needs to be demonstrated by ensuring volunteers’ rights are protected; ensuring volunteers are not disadvantaged through their volunteer contribution; ensuring volunteers are not discriminated against in any way; and ensuring efforts are focused on making it easier to volunteer, not harder.
Changes in Industrial Relations, litigation and Occupational Health and Safety requirements mean volunteers need a modern legislative framework to protect them, to remove barriers and to allow us to keep protecting our diverse community’s needs.
We must make the law recognise modern emergency volunteers, guarantee us all reasonable rights and protections, support our volunteering choice and prevent other legislation from handicapping us as we train, provide day to day emergency response and serve in our tens of thousands during major emergencies.
It is only fair that we who protect the community have its protection, in the form of hard legislation - a Emergency Volunteer Respect Act.
Proposed contents and key points for the development of a Emergency Volunteer Respect Act
The driving thinking behind the Emergency Volunteer Respect Act concept recognises that emergency service volunteers work in unique operating environments and organisational resource models, alongside paid workers and delivering professional levels of service equivalent to that of paid workers, but without the rights, protections, recognition etc. of paid workers.
The proposed Emergency Volunteer Respect Act would give clear direction to State and Federal Governments on all matters, Acts, Regulations, Enterprise Agreements, deeds, contracts and other documentation which deals with or potentially impacts on volunteers.
Its provisions would be enforceable with penalties for those who disobey it by act or omission. All subsequent legislation, deeds, Enterprise Agreements and contracts would then have to pass the filter of the Emergency Volunteer Respect Act before they could be enacted.
The Act will need to be discussed and drafted among volunteer representatives, then sent to all states and all volunteer associations and groups for discussion. We will need to assess those other organisations’ needs and suggestions, and build up the evidence and rhetoric required to garner their support.
The Act will offer stability and a clear set of rules and protections for volunteers. It will enable the best use of their abilities and ensure healthy, cohesive, volunteer-based emergency services that are fully integrated, with paid and unpaid professionals working effectively to protect the community.
The Act shall consolidate the law relating to the treatment and respect of volunteers.
Emergency Volunteer Respect Act
The Act shall have the following principles –
- Respect the rights of Volunteers to enable them to perform their roles without discrimination, no loss of legal standing, no disadvantage or loss of integrity and provide for all persons a means to volunteer according to their capacity without discrimination;
- Enshrine for volunteers the right to be consulted with, in advance on any matters which might impact on volunteer rights or duties and have agreement between the parties on any matters which might impact on volunteers;
Integration with legislation
- Ensure all subsequent legislation, deeds and contracts as far as is permissible by law, is reviewed to ensure compliance with these principles does not unfairly impact on the rights of volunteers in the performance of their duties;
- Enables volunteers to have reasonable adequate resources to be able to perform their roles in a manner that is safe and without risks to their health;
- Provide for an education fund for volunteers to assist with enhancing skills of volunteers directly for the public good;
Consultation, leadership and engagement
- Provide for a consultative body empowered to sign off on all matters pertaining to the rights of volunteers and which is made up of representatives from a range of accountable volunteer stakeholders;
- Enable breaches by persons or organisations to be properly dealt with according to Law;
A fair go without hardship
- Where not already provided for, to establish a volunteer hardship support fund to assist volunteers, which meet certain criteria, to provide for their personal costs and losses incurred as a part of their volunteering efforts;
No discrimination for supporters of volunteers
- Not discriminate against persons who support volunteers or assist with establishing, providing and maintaining services, training or support to volunteers;
- Provide for recognition of volunteers’ skills to agreed national competency levels and where a volunteer has been competently assessed, not discriminate against a volunteer in any way including the basis of qualifications and experience.
Out of pocket expenses
- Where otherwise not expressly provided for, provide for the reimbursement for out of pocket costs incurred by volunteers as a direct cause of them volunteering if they so wish to claim on an appropriate scale as yet to be determined; and
Immunity from prosecution
- Provide for immunity from prosecution for volunteers and those who are directly supporting volunteers whilst performing their duties and acting in good faith.
Volunteer rights include but are not limited to –
a) Volunteers work in an environment which is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner
b) Volunteers are engaged in a service in which engagement and duty decisions are based on merit
c) Volunteers are engaged in a work place that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves
d) Volunteers respect and have the highest ethical standards
e) Volunteers respect organisations which are openly accountable for their actions, within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public
f) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation which is responsible in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice in all matters and programs
g) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously involves the Australian public and is sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public
h) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that has leadership of the highest quality
i) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation in which workplace relations that value communication, consultation, co-operation and input from volunteers and employees on matters that affect their workplace
j) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that provides a fair, flexible, safe and rewarding workplace
k) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that focuses on achieving results and managing performance
l) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that promotes equity in membership, relations and employment
m) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that provides a reasonable opportunity to all eligible members of the community to apply for volunteer membership and employment as the case may be
n) Volunteers are engaged in an organisation that provides a fair system of review of decisions taken in respect of volunteers and employees