Firefighters displeased with govt firefighting bill

Ljubljana – A firefighters’ trade union is critical of the government-proposed changes to the fire service act, as it says it was not involved in the drafting of the amendments. Some of the proposals that had already been coordinated with the competent ministry in the past have been dropped from the latest version, the union noted.

Having tabled the proposal recently, the government said the changes were aimed at enabling further development of firefighting and increasing the coordination and efficiency of the fire service’s operational tasks.

The Trade Union of Professional Firefighters meanwhile said on Wednesday that the amendments had been adopted by the government without any dialogue or cooperation with the union.

Moreover, the government rejected all the union’s proposals for additional amendments, which had already been endorsed by the Defence Ministry under the previous government and included in the changes, David Švarc, the union’s secretary general, told the press.

Švarc said that the ministry’s explanation had been that a large number of the articles proposed by the trade union had already been coordinated with the two umbrella firefighting organisations, the Slovenian Firefighters’ Association and the Association of Slovenian Professional Firefighters.

“This is ridiculous, to say the least, and above all unacceptable,” said Švarc, adding that although the two organisations were stakeholders in the process of adopting these changes, it was unacceptable that they should discuss issues that are in the domain of the trade union.

The first is the umbrella organisation of volunteer firefighters, whereas the second is headed by the directors of professional fire brigades, who, according to Švarc, mainly convey the views of the employers’ side.

Among the proposals rejected by the ministry and the government are the trade union’s demand that the changes should also recognise airport professional firefighting units as a type of firefighting unit and that firefighters in professional capacity in voluntary firefighting associations should be treated the same way as employees of professional units.

The trade union also disagrees with the raising of the upper age limit for performing operational firefighting duties to 65 years.

It expects the ministry and the government to include the union’s representatives in the negotiations and to treat them as an equal partner. It will also contact deputy factions in parliament to attempt to correct the “completely uncoordinated proposal” with amendments before the bill is put to a vote.

Janez Žakelj, state secretary at the ministry, dismissed the union’s criticism, saying that the proposal had been coordinated with the Slovenian Firefighters’ Association, the Association of Slovenian Professional Firefighters and municipal firefighting associations.

He also noted that the bill had been more than five years in the making and was a result of a lengthy coordination process.

The government’s proposal was tabled last Thursday. It would introduce, among other things, the possibility of a joint fire brigade in industrial areas as well as a legal basis for interest groupings of professional fire brigades. The bill also further specifies the distinction between professional and volunteer firefighters.