The Rural Fire Service has asked bosses to be as flexible as possible when releasing staff to fight the bushfires sweeping NSW.
With a state of emergency declared earlier this week, the RFS said it appreciated the support volunteers had received from their employers.
Many employers have implemented special leave entitlements or other conditions so firefighters are not penalised, financially or otherwise.
‘‘In smaller businesses it might be the case that their colleagues are covering their shifts,’’ the RFS spokesman said.
‘‘But it’s not just employers who are impacted – volunteers also have to leave behind their families for extended periods.’’
Earlier this year the RFS set up an annual Supportive Employer Award Program to recognise employers who release staff to fight fires, protect property and save lives.
‘‘We want employers to know that there are benefits in hiring RFS volunteers, as through training they develop competency and leadership skills, learn how to deal with hazardous situations and can deal with the public under stress,’’ he said.
Last week Premier Barry O’Farrell put in place legal protection ensuring emergency services volunteers involved in the bushfire crisis were not victimised for leaving their jobs.
He said that though the vast majority of employers did the right thing by granting leave, in the past a small minority of volunteers had lost their jobs or faced a financial penalty for responding to an emergency situation.
The order, signed last week, makes it an offence for an employer to take negative action against a volunteer. It also allows for a court to make directions, including that a sacked worker be reinstated.
There are currently more than 2000 volunteer firefighters mobilised across NSW.
Brian Beecroft, chief executive of the Timber Trade Industrial Association (TTIA) said there was already provision under the Fair Work Act protecting emergency volunteers who left their employment in a crisis situation from victimisation, including demotion and dismissal.
But though there were legal provisions in Queensland requiring employers to pay volunteer firefighters, no such legislation existed in NSW under the act.
Mr Beecroft said he had advised members of the TTIA that they were obliged under the law to release employees who were members of the RFS and deployed on firefighting operations.
‘‘In NSW it’s usually leave without pay – similar to parental leave,’’ Mr Beecroft said.
He said firefighters and other volunteers were required to provide documentation from emergency services and had to notify their employer of their estimated absence from work.
‘‘The forest industry often helps out in times of bushfire, including lending machinery such as excavators for clearing purposes or for fighting fires. There’s always a fair bit of community co-operation from our members.’’