‘Slap in the face’ for volunteer firefighters

Source: The Coastal Leader

South Australia’s volunteer firefighters say they havebeen dealt a slap inthe face by the state government over a plantocompensatecareer firefighters for cancer without linking it to their work.

The bill was introduced into state parliament on Tuesday.

Under the bill, career firefighters would have automatic access to WorkCover payments for 12 cancers including brain, breast, bladder, kidney and prostate cancer along with leukaemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma from July 1.

The plan doesn’t include 14,500 volunteer firefighters which Volunteers Association president Roger Flavell said was discriminatory.

“I honestly cannot believe that the government has singled some firefighters out to not receive the compensation. It’s just crazy,” Mr Flavell said.

“It’s fair to say that the volunteers are extremely disappointed and there is a rising tide of anger that the government would dare to go down this line.

“It’s definitely discrimination.”

Mr Flavell said he hasreceived numerous calls over the past week from volunteers from as far away as Ceduna who are upset and willing to march on Parliament House.

“Volunteers put in millions of dollars of labour of every year to keep communities right across this state safe,” Mr Flavell said.

“Our volunteers are extremely upset and we can’t believe the government has tried this to be honest. They are not going to get away with it. There’s no way we are going to stand being discriminated against.”

Attorney-General John Rau, who introduced the bill, said there was insufficient evidence to support an increased prevalence of cancers in volunteers.

“We know that career firefighters are exposed to a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer due to the direct exposure to carcinogens released by some combustable materials, particularly in confined spaces,” Mr Rau said.

The plan has come under fire by both the state opposition and the Greens who believe CFS volunteers should have the same access to compensation for specified cancers as full-time firefighters.

“Cancer doesn’t distinguish between a paid firefighter and a volunteer firefighter,” saidParliamentary Secretary Mitch Williams.

“We recognise that CFS volunteers may well face a level of exposure to potential health risks, especially in peri-urban areas, which is not significantly different to full time firefighters.”

Greens’ Industrial Relations spokesperson Tammy Franks expressed herdisappointed.

She said the Greens’ bill had already been passed through the Upper House but would require thesupport of the state government to pass in the Lower House.

“There is a significant body of science linking these sorts of structural fires with a significantly heightened risk of cancer and we know that our MFS and CFS firefighters often stand shoulder to shoulder at these incidents,” Ms Franks said.

“We won’t be letting it through the Parliament without volunteers getting protection too.”

Government compensation plan will exclude more than 14,000 volunteer firies from cover for work-related cancers.