OAFC supports labour relations reform
By Grant Cameron
The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) is applauding the provincial government for introducing legislation that will allow full-time firefighters to volunteer as firefighters in their communities.
The legislation, known as Bill 57, the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, was introduced in the Legislature earlier this week.
Presently, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA) prohibits full-time firefighters from serving as volunteer firefighters.
Firefighting full time and volunteering on the side is known as “two-hatting” or “double hatting.”
If passed, Schedule 18 of Bill 57 will amend the FPPA to, among other things, enhance protections for volunteer firefighters engaged in double-hatting and address collective bargaining and interest arbitration in the sector.
The OAFC maintains that the legislation, if passed, will protect firefighters who are employed full time and chose to volunteer as a firefighter in the community where they live.
The OAFC said in a statement that it is also pleased to see proposed changes to reform the interest arbitration process, which will help municipalities' evidence “local economic realities to be fully considered” by the arbitrator.
“We commend the Ford government for acting on these long-standing issues, and look forward to continuing to work together, protecting our firefighters, and ultimately keeping Ontario's residents safe," OAFC president Stephen Hernen, who is fire chief for the Town of Huntsville, said in a statement.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli introduced the proposed move as part of the province’s 2018 economic outlook and fiscal review.
The changes would prevent firefighters from being disciplined, fined or suspended if they want to volunteer on the side.
Specifically, the legislation would amend the FPPA to prohibit employers and employers’ organizations from refusing to employ a person as a firefighter, refusing to assign a person to fire protection services or discharging a firefighter because the person has worked, is working, or intends to work as a volunteer firefighter.
The legislation’s enhanced protections for two-hatters are expected to provide all workplace parties – both associations and employers alike – with much needed clarity on their rights and responsibilities towards volunteer firefighters in relation to the longstanding issue.
If passed in its current form, Schedule 18 clarifies that working as a volunteer firefighter will not constitute “unlawful activity.” Accordingly, associations will not be permitted to require employers to discharge firefighters because they have, are or intend to work as a volunteer firefighter.
The legislation also proposes the FPPA be amended so that the present three-member arbitration boards be replaced with single arbitrators for dispute resolution.
The amendments also include new criteria to be taken into consideration in an arbitrator’s decision and a requirement that an arbitrator provide written reasons for a decision at the request of either party.
The OAFC represents more than 700 chief fire officers in Ontario, from across 442 municipalities, who are responsible for the management and delivery of fire, rescue and emergency response to 13 million residents.