COMPENSATION GAP: Members of The Caves Rural Fire Brigade who are pictured here fighting a fire near Bakers Road Etna Creek may miss out on government compensation if they work for a large company unwilling to pay for leave.
COMPENSATION GAP: Members of The Caves Rural Fire Brigade who are pictured here fighting a fire near Bakers Road Etna Creek may miss out on government compensation if they work for a large company unwilling to pay for leave.

Big business urged to support employees left out of pocket

IT was a tremendous achievement for The Morning ­Bulletin's 'Fair go for our fireys' campaign to secure ­government compensation for our firefighting and SES ­volunteers but unfortunately, the job is not complete.

While self-employed, small business owners and small business employees were ­entitled to up to $300 per ­person, per day (up to $6,000 tax free) after working more than 10 days on the fire grounds between July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, ­unfortunately there are gaps in this compensation coverage and people are missing out.

Volunteers working for large companies are not ­eligible for compensation in the scheme and if the ­companies are unwilling to commit to paying for the ­volunteer's leave, employees are being left in the lurch, forced to use up their holiday leave or take unpaid leave, leading to financial hardship.

While the government and some large companies like Woolworths and Hastings Deering have stepped up to provide additional leave ­support for their workers, not every big business is doing the right thing by their staff and the community.

Queensland Senator Matt Canavan said his government hadtried to set up a system that was equal for all ­firefighters involved in ­extended firefighting operations.

Queensland Senator Matt Canavan.
Queensland Senator Matt Canavan.

"It's something that's only recently been announced. I'm happy to have a look at gaps but there has to be a reasonable balance," Senator Canavan said.

"We've said we'll pay for leave for Commonwealth employees and we've also encouraged other large companies to do the same.

"We can't direct them to do that and it's not for the Commonwealth Government to fund large company's workforces."

Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the scheme was intended to reimburse lost wages in cases where an employer or a business is not in a financial position to support an employee who was fighting the fires.

Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud.
Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud.

"BIG business benefits more than most of us from the hard work of our volunteer firefighters and I urge them to support their staff who are part of volunteer services," Mr Littleproud said.

"He said the process of ­determining eligibility and administering reimbursements are done by state agencies."

Acting Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Leeanne Enoch denied this, saying eligibility was determined by the Federal Government's ­framework which ­Queenslands worked within.

Acting Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Leeanne Enoch.
Acting Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Leeanne Enoch.

"The Palaszczuk ­Government acted quickly to ensure eligible volunteers, under the Federal ­Government's framework, were able to access these funds as soon as possible," Ms Enoch said.

While Keppel MP Brittany Lauga believed the different levels of government had come to a good arrangement to ­support the majority of ­volunteers, she acknowledged that some were still missing out.

Keppel MP Brittany Lauga.
Keppel MP Brittany Lauga.

"I would encourage all of those large companies that don't currently have this kind of leave to consider it because they have the capacity to ­provide this sort of ­compensation to their ­employees," Ms Lauga said.

"I believe they have a ­corporate responsibility in this country to provide that ­support to their employees so that they can go and provide a community support.

She said the Federal ­Government could potentially introduce legislation to force the larger companies to look after their firefighting and SES staff.