Less than a week into the aftermath of the investigation by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) into bullying and sexual harassment in the Victoria Police Force, VEOHRC is now investigating claims of a culture of bullying and gender inequality in Victoria’s fire services.
This investigation follows an independent report into the fire services in July 2015, following which Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett declared that ‘the review found a widespread culture of bullying in our fire services and also raised concerns around the grave lack of gender diversity in our fire agencies’.
This was coupled with concerning statistics, showing that only 3 per cent of the Victoria’s active operational Country Fire Authority (CFA) staff are women and 3.3 per cent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s (MFB) staff are women. Of the more than 35,000 volunteer firefighters, only 15 per cent are female.
VEOHRC Commissioner Kate Jenkins will head the investigation, which will focus on workplace culture and gender diversity. It will examine the culture in the MFB and the CFA, along with their management practices and their resources, such as policies and training.
Ms Jenkins has clarified that the comprehensive review of all areas of the MFB and CFA in these areas is essential, because ‘we know that a lack of women in an organisation often reflects systemic discrimination’.
As with Victoria Police, the fire services have welcomed the investigation, and have shown a determination to change their workplace culture. MFB president Andi Diamond has said that he appreciates that the firefighting culture can be difficult for women and that a constructive culture needs to be built, ‘There are clearly concerns about the workplace culture in our fire services, that is why we have asked Kate Jenkins to get involved’.
So far, the review has received over 180 submissions and remains ongoing. What is already apparent, however, is that organisations are being probed by human rights watchdogs in increasing numbers. Unhealthy workplaces are no longer being left to thrive; they are now coming under scrutiny and positive change is imperative.