Bullying and discrimination is still prevalent within the Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria, Australia a new report has found, with staff describing a “toxic culture” and a lack of confidence in the organization’s leadership, despite repeated workplace reviews. One in 10 staff members said they had experienced violence and aggression, 9 per cent said they had experienced discrimination and 8 per cent sexual harassment. One in five workers said they intended to leave the CFA, with more than half citing a lack of confidence in senior leadership as the reason. “Bullying and harassment is prevalent especially from supervisors … towards staff,” one stakeholder said. “These behaviors have led to the creation of a toxic culture where seemingly the only way to succeed is to emulate those above you.”
According to the report, 128 mental health injury claims were made by staff between 2017 and 2021. Of those claims, 41 reference work pressure or work-related bulling as the reason for the complaint. “If there was anything I could change in CFA [it’s] the straight-out bullying tactics,” one stakeholder said.
Another described the culture of their brigade as “awful, sexist, misogynistic”. “It’s a culture of double standards,” they said.
Several reports commissioned by the CFA since 2016 have found that there was a culture of fear and bullying in the service and made recommendations for change.
CFA apologises to members following release of report
In a joint statement from CFA chair Greg Wilson, chief executive Natalie MacDonald and chief officer Jason Heffernan, the organisation acknowledged today’s report made for “distressing reading”.
“We are deeply sorry to those current and past members who have experienced unacceptable behaviours at CFA and we are committed to doing better,” the statement said.
The CFA said it would also accept the 10 recommendations made by the report in full.
The CFA is now a volunteer-only organization after the Andrews government overhauled the state’s fire services in 2020 and merged the Metropolitan Fire Brigade with the paid firefighters in the CFA to create Fire Rescue Victoria. The report revealed there was still a “turf war” between the two services, with one stakeholder describing it as an “us versus them mentality”.
There was a perception among staff that during call-outs where volunteer and paid members come together, there were instances of inequity in treatment.
“The differences are blatant,” one stakeholder said.
“Paid firefighters will come to assist and be given different food, there is a clear difference in the quality of the food provided.”