NSW cross-bencher Fred Nile won't support firefighters' calls to be exempt from the state government's overhaul of workers compensation, with the Christian Democrat MP saying they would benefit from the changes.
About 800 firefighters in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast walked off the job at 1pm (AEST) on Thursday to protest the government's overhaul of WorkCover, calling to be exempt like colleagues in the Rural Fire Service and police force.
The government has been locked in negotiations with cross-bench MPs over amendments to better protect firefighters and others, and hopes to pass the legislation through the upper house on Thursday.Advertisement: Story continues below
Reverend Nile, who supports the WorkCover reforms aimed at reining in a deficit of more than $4 billion, said he had planned a proposal to exempt firefighters and other emergency workers.
However, in a blow to the firefighters, hundreds of whom marched on parliament on Thursday, he "found this would in fact reduce the benefits that those individuals in those areas would be getting under this legislation".
"After a full examination of the proposal I was putting up on behalf of particularly the fire and rescue employees, it's clear that they would not have access to suitable benefits of the legislation if they were exempted," Mr Nile said.
"There are circumstances where firefighters would be better off as a result of changes to benefits and other features of the new scheme."
Without pressure from Mr Nile, the Finance Minister Greg Pearce announced the government would not exempt firefighters and paramedics.
"After a full examination of the proposal it is clear they would not have access to considerable benefits of the legislation if they were exempted," Mr Pearce told the upper house.
But Mr Pearce said the government would back Mr Nile's other amendments, including a journey to work system similar to South Australia's.
The government had wanted to abolish claims for injuries sustained travelling to and from work, except for police.
However, Mr Pearce said the coalition would support Mr Nile's changes that allowed claims "where there is a real and substantial connection between the worker's employment and the accident or incident causing the injury".
Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) has welcomed an IRC ruling that will prevent any further industrial action by firefighters for the next three months.
The IRC ruling on Thursday afternoon "will ensure minimum staffing levels are maintained" at communication centres, specialist areas and fire trucks, a FRNSW spokesperson said in a statement.
"This prevents the FBEU and firefighters from taking further industrial or stop work action in any of these vital areas.
"It applies for the next three months."
The FBEU has agreed to abide by the IRC ruling.
Media from yesterday - Firefighters won, amendments were passed to include firefighters. the strike was successful.