Heroic firefighters, many of them volunteers, have won the gratitude and admiration of Australians this summer as the nation has been ravaged by one of the worst bushfire seasons our country has ever endured. RMB Compensation Law head CHRIS SHEPPARD writes that these volunteers have legal rights.
This summer the world has watched on as significant parts of Australia, and in particular our South Coast region, have burned. Volunteer firefighters have put themselves in extreme danger, often to their own detriment physically, timewise and financially. However, those volunteers have a number of legal rights which include:
Community Service Leave
Under the National Employment Standards (NES) those involved in volunteer bushfire fighting are entitled to undertake community service leave. The right to access this type of leave applies to all employees covered by the National Workplace Relations System regardless of any award, agreement or contract. This covers essentially all employees except those employed by a State Government department.
Those eligible volunteers are entitled to take community service leave while they are engaged in firefighting, for reasonable travel time and for rest time.
There is no limitation on the amount of community service leave a volunteer can take, as long as it is reasonable. An employer cannot terminate or take adverse action against a volunteer on leave whilst their absence is reasonable and while engaging in these activities.
This leave is usually unpaid, but employers have the option to pay their employees while they are performing these volunteer duties.
Of course, the risk of injury (both physical and psychological) fighting these fires is significant.
The NSW workers compensation system extends coverage to those brave people injured while performing authorised volunteer activities. If a person has been injured performing these duties, they may be entitled to benefits such as weekly income support; medical, hospital and rehabilitation payments; return to work assistance; property damage payments; lump sum payments for any permanent impairment; funeral expenses and support payments; and work injury damages if an injury has occurred as a result of negligence.
It is important that a claim is lodged as soon as possible to ensure that the payment of benefits commence quickly.
The NSW workers compensation scheme has undergone many changes over the past seven years. RMB Lawyers have a team of expert lawyers who only practice in this area. If you need help or advice, contact us. We'll be able to help you via a quick phone call, or ask us a question via email.