The NZPFU has written to the FENZ Board Chair and the Chief Executive questioning whether it is appropriate for FENZ to continue to fund the UFBA (United Fire Brigades’ Association), and whether there is appropriate monitoring of the use of the funding to provide support and advocacy services for all volunteer firefighters.
There has been significant media over the past few months regarding allegations made by women volunteer firefighters against other volunteer firefighters, and the lack of appropriate investigation processes or support when they made their complaints. These were complaints against FENZ’s failure to investigate or have complaints processes, but recently a UFBA investigation also collapsed. On 5 January 2021 the UFBA reported that its investigation (previously publicised as complaints of sexual harassment and bullying) was not proceeding after the investigator failed to reach agreement with the two complainants on receiving full access to the final investigation report.
In August 2020 the NZPFU offered to support the women volunteer firefighter complainants who had not been able to secure appropriate representation or support to ensure their complaints were investigated appropriately and in a timely manner. A number of volunteer firefighters took up that offer. It is from our discussions with those volunteers that we learned at least one did not know the UFBA existed, most did not know the UFBA was funded to provide support and advocacy for volunteer firefighters, and the couple that had sought the UFBA’s help found their assistance woeful and biased towards rank.
The NZPFU understands FENZ funds the UFBA to the tune of approximately $4 million per annum (not including significant additional funding provided for training, conferences, and other volunteer-only costs). The core funding is primarily for the UFBA to provide advocacy and support services and volunteer capability development which includes leadership and psychological wellbeing. In accordance with section 37 of the Fire and Emergency Act 2017 there is a statutory obligation to provide volunteers with access to advocacy and support services.
FENZ has an obligation to ensure that any organisation it is funding to support and advocate on behalf of volunteer firefighters, and to provide leadership and psychological wellbeing support to volunteers, is a credible organisation that is undertaking those obligations without fear or favour for all volunteers regardless of rank, status or location.
FENZ has a fiscal and statutory obligation to ensure the organisation it funds to support and advocate on behalf of volunteers, and to provide development and psychological support, is a credible organisation that demonstrates transparency, fairness as well as provide reporting that the funding has been used for the purpose it was provided.
The allegations made by the women volunteers who have sought the NZPFU assistance raise serious concerns that women volunteer firefighters are particularly vulnerable if they make allegations against another volunteer firefighter, and all volunteers were vulnerable if they were making allegations against a higher ranking volunteer, particularly a Chief. There appears to be an ability for volunteer brigades to contain complaints within the brigade without a requirement to notify FENZ of these complaints.
On the 14th January 2021 the NZPFU wrote to the FENZ Board Chair and the Chief Executive setting out our concerns of recent publicised events regarding allegations that serious complaints had not been investigated, or the investigations had collapsed without findings and an outcome. We noted that the UFBA has been provided millions every year for many years to provide advocacy and support and yet there appears to be no controls, monitoring or transparency of the use of that funding. According to the UFBA annual report the UFBA provided advocacy and support to 109 cases in 2019-2020 and made submissions on behalf of 4 members. We asked FENZ:
- How do the UFBA reported statistics stack up against the number of volunteers seeking support and advocacy?
- What is the breakdown in rank in those the UFBA actually represented?
- What is the gender breakdown in those the UFBA actually represented?
We also asked FENZ:
- What is FENZ’s position on the continued funding of the UFBA in the current circumstances?
- Does FENZ have any concerns about the continued operation and funding of the UFBA in these circumstances?
Other than acknowledgement of receipt, we are yet to receive a response from the Board or CE.
FENZ is responsible for ensuring the use of its funding is monitored to ensure it used for its proper purpose. The information we have to date suggests FENZ has failed to ensure that its funding for the support and advocacy of volunteers is used for that purpose, and is made available to volunteers fairly and without discrimination.
We will keep members informed of any development or response received from either the Board or the CE.