Fire Rescue overtime questioned

Question without notice

November 30, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (13:28):

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services (Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP):

Minister, Fire Rescue Victoria’s first annual report details an overtime bill for Victorian taxpayers of more than $71.8 million. Across the organisation’s 3570 staff and firefighters, this averages out at $20,112 per employee. All up, each FRV employee costs an average of $181,730 a year.

In comparing the service’s overtime with similar organisations in other states, the overtime required for our fire service staff seems incredibly high. For example, Fire and Rescue NSW overtime for 2019–20 was less than half, and their overall employee expenses are about $200 million less.

Minister, has the government had discussions with Fire Services Victoria to question the high rate of overtime paid to staff and made attempts to try and address this blowout for the future?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (13:29):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question in relation to fire services. I know she is a big advocate for both our volunteer and our career firefighters in our state. As we know, Victoria is one of the highest risk fire areas in the world. From talking to both our CFA and FRV staff, as I have been getting out and about in the new role, you used to probably have a bit more predictability about when there would be a fire, and now that seems to be almost year-round, given climate change. So it is so important to have support for both our career and our volunteer firefighters.

We did make a commitment to increase firefighter numbers, and that is exactly what we have done. There have been 450 funded since 2015. In relation to the matters I just went through it is really important that we continue to make appropriate investments for the safety of Victorians. Firefighters work tirelessly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they certainly deserve the pay and conditions for the sacrifices that they make in relation to the enormous effort that they put in.

With the transfer of many of the Country Fire Authority staff into FRV, there were an additional 1670 staff overall in 2020–21 compared to 2019–20 and an additional 1445 operational staff, including career firefighters, that were part of the transfer from the CFA to the FRV, and also 225 support staff.

In relation to some of the figures that you are putting out there, I will have to double-check that because I do not think you took into account the fact that there were a lot of the support staff that transferred as well.

There is a lot of work going on. We continue to work with FRV on their needs and on ensuring that we give the best support for the firefighters and the support services so they can continue to do their important work.

Ms MAXWELL (13:32): Thank you, Attorney, and a big shout-out to all those people in those fire rescue positions who do so much work to keep us all safe.

The overtime bill for operational staff included $21.6m for recall overtime and $10.3m for overtime to maintain strength of the operational units. Another $33m was counted as ‘other’, so I would be interested to know at some stage what that covers.

But my specific supplementary question is: overtime that represents $20,000 annually to each staff member might seem great for their pay packet, but has there been or will there be any evaluation completed on the implications for safety of such a high level of overtime being required for these emergency employees?

Ms SYMES (13:32): I can assure Ms Maxwell that at all of the meetings I have had with all our emergency services the welfare of our staff and volunteers that put themselves on the line time and time again for the protection of the community is at the forefront of their considerations. You would appreciate that I have had conversations in here about workplace practices and sexual harassment and the like, and I can assure you that a topic of conversation with every agency is the welfare of their staff.