Advice about bushfires and your work

text reads "Stay Safe - industrial information from your union" against blurred orange background of firefighters in bushfire

Australians continue to feel the damage of the current bushfire crisis in many different ways. Members all over the country are affected.

Many of you and your families are actively involved in fighting the fires as volunteer firefighters or defending your own homes and communities. The national death toll is 22, and among this number are family and friends of CPSU members. The toll of the property damage, damage to roads and infrastructure, and loss of wildlife and livestock is also huge.

For every one of you who have been directly affected, you have the solidarity, sympathy and support of me and your fellow union members.

You can help

In this time of crisis and devastation, there have been inspiring acts of kindness and togetherness, resilience and bravery. As a union community, we come together to support each other and build each other up. You can donate to the Red Cross here and see a more complete list of ways to help from our members at the ABC here.

Thanks to the CPSU members working for the community through this crisis

In every crisis, CPSU members are there providing support to those affected. CPSU members have been working hard providing vital information to people in affected areas and showing the damage to the rest of the country through the ABC as the official emergency broadcaster, along with other broadcast media. CPSU members have been providing and maintaining phone and internet access. CPSU members have been taking calls from those worst affected and enabling Centrelink emergency assistance payments. CPSU members in Defence, Bureau of Meteorology, and many other agencies are all supporting our community at this time.

To all of you, we say thank you.

Advice on fire-related leave and Work Health and Safety, including smoke and air quality

Smoke, air quality and your safety

Report your concerns to your WHS rep and lodge an incident report.

Outside of the dangers in the bushfire zones, the fires are creating significant hazards, such as smoke leading to hazardous air quality. Your employer has an obligation to ensure that your worksite is safe. Some agencies - including DHS - have been in contact with CPSU representatives to let us know that they are proactively ensuring safe work environments. Measures agencies are taking include monitoring air quality, shutting down worksites, using air scrubbers in other sites, and allowing flexible work such as working from home. 

If you have concerns with the work health and safety at your workplace, please contact your organiser or call the Member Service Centre on 1300 137 636. CPSU representatives are actively engaging with agencies to ensure the health and safety of all workers is a primary concern.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has prepared a factsheet on work health & safety and bushfires here.

Accessing leave and flexible working arrangements 

Talk to your supervisors about any accommodations that can be made depending on the circumstances.

Most agencies are taking a sensible approach to staff accessing leave and flexible working arrangements.

We encourage members, particularly those with symptoms (or without symptoms but with health factors that put them at higher risk), to seek flexible work arrangements where this will reduce your smoke exposure. If you are having health issues or respiratory problems, please talk to your GP or medical practitioner about where the most appropriate place is for you to be.

There is a variety of leave and flexible working arrangements available depending on your circumstances. These include for members who are directly affected by the fires, members who are volunteering, members whose health is affected by smoke and members and their families who have been caught away from home by the fires.

Volunteer Firefighters paid leave: If you have been volunteering as a firefighter and work for the Commonwealth, the Government advised on 24 December 2019 that an additional four weeks paid leave is now available so you don’t need to access your own annual leave or long service leave.

If you are having trouble accessing leave or flexible working arrangements or have any issues relating to the smoke or fires, please contact the CPSU Member Service Centre on 1300 137 636 or via email for assistance.

Once again on behalf of every CPSU member, I express our solidarity and support for all those members of our community who have lost loved ones, who have lost their homes, and who have otherwise been affected by these terrible fires. I also once again say thank you to those of you who are directly involved in supporting our community at this time. This has been a devastating way to end 2019 and start 2020 and it is not over yet.

Yours in solidarity,

Melissa Donnelly

CPSU National Secretary