Vic firies turn screws for sharp pay rise

·3-min read

Victoria's firefighters union is pushing for a sharp pay rise to combat soaring inflation, as it turns the screws on the state government ahead of the November election.

The United Firefighters Union launched its new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) campaign on Thursday, demanding real wage increases amid cost of living pressures.

Its claim is for a 25.9 per cent overall rise in wages over the next three years, averaging out to 8.6 per cent annually.

The union argues the demand keeps pace with consumer price index (CPI) movements, given annual inflation is forecast to hit 7.8 per cent by the end of 2022.

But the Reserve Bank of Australia has tipped annual inflation to ease to 4.3 per cent in 2023 and then three per cent in 2024.

UFU Victorian branch Secretary Peter Marshall said detractors will brand the demand "outrageous" but insists it won't put increasing pressure on households.

"It comes from (the) fire services levy," he told assembled firefighters and reporters during a presentation.

"The money's already there. They just need to direct it to the people that respond."

As part of its EBA claim, professional firefighters are also calling for additional funding to replace outdated fire trucks, as well as for specialist equipment and increased training.

Other demands include a mechanism to attract diverse staff applicants, increasing cultural and community engagement officer numbers from five to eight, and more support for firefighters to transition into retirement.

The union was a key ally when the Andrews Labor government came to power in 2014 but the relationship has since soured over the restructuring of state fire services and occupational health rights.

Premier Daniel Andrews wouldn't be drawn on a report the UFU will campaign against his government in 14 battleground seats ahead of voters heading to the polls.

He was unsure if the move was linked to EBA negotiations but vowed to bargain in good faith.

"There's a number of outstanding issues and we'll work through those ... to get a fair and balanced outcome that properly rewards our firefighters for their bravery, for their skill, for their fundamental commitment," he told reporters in Geelong.

"But also leaves enough money in the budget so we can keep recruiting more of them."

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy was unaware of the union's specific pay demands but remained open to "sensible" EBA conversations.

"The government that I want to lead is one that actually works with people," he said.

The brewing pay stoush comes as the Victorian coalition promised $75 million to redevelop Daylesford Hospital to Melbourne's northwest as part of another health-minded election commitment.

Under the plan, the hospital would be upgraded to include an 18-bed acute ward, increased space for dialysis, and expanded aged care, palliative care and respite services.

It is the latest in a string of hospital construction or redevelopment commitments the coalition intents to fund by shelving Melbourne's multibillion-dollar Suburban Rail Loop.