NSW Ambulance paramedics are taking industrial action over demands that they pay $80 to obtain a ‘working with children’ clearance (see ‘Paramedics giving free rides in protest against paying for Working With Children ChecksABC News (Online), 1 March 2018).  This news story says:

Ambulance officers are furious that police and firefighters are exempt from paying the $80 fee for their checks, while paramedics are forced to pay from their own pockets.

It goes onto say ‘The Working With Children Check has been phased in since 2013 for all NSW Government agencies’

I make no comment on whether paramedics should pay the $80 or whether it should be waived or payed by the Ambulance Service, but I do want to question some of those claims because a correspondent has written and asked why is it that

… paramedics in NSW are being required to get ‘working with children checks’ but firefighters, who regularly go to school events for education sessions etc, are not. Is it the different nature of the work each discipline does?’

Being exempt from the need to get a check is different from being exempt from the need to pay for one.

‘A worker must not engage in child-related work unless … the worker holds a working with children check clearance…’; Child Protection (Working With Children) Act 2012 (NSW) s 8.  Child-related work includes work that is ‘the provision of health care in wards of hospitals where children are treated and the direct provision of other child health services’ and which is declared, in the regulations, to be ‘child-related work’ (Child Protection (Working With Children) Act 2012 (NSW) s 6).   The Child Protection (Working With Children) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 6 says a health practitioner is anyone who provides a health service to children and that a health service includes ambulance services.  So anyone who provides ambulance services to children (ie a paramedic) is engaged in child-related work and must have a ‘a working with children check clearance’.

A clearance for volunteers is free.  For everyone else it costs $80 (Child Protection (Working With Children) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 17(1)). There are however some further exemptions.  The Child Protection (Working With Children) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 17(3) says:

The following persons are exempt from the requirement to pay an application fee for a clearance:

(a) authorised carers referred to in section 137 (1) (b) or (c) of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 or an adult person referred to in section 10 (1) of the Act,

(b) a person undertaking practical training as part of an educational or vocational course,

(c) potential adoptive parents.

Those exemptions do not apply to either firefighters, police or paramedics.

It may be that firefighters don’t have to pay for a check because NSW Fire and Rescue pay for it for them?  If that’s true then it’s an industrial issue.  If the Fire Brigade Employees Union can compel FRNSW to pay the bill it just means they have achieved what the ambulance union is trying to achieve.  There is however nothing about working with children checks in the Crown Employees (Fire and Rescue NSW Permanent Firefighting Staff) Award 2017.  FRNSW could offer to pay outside the award but that seems unlikely.

Maybe firefighters just don’t need one?  The article says ‘‘The Working With Children Check has been phased in since 2013 for all NSW Government agencies’ but there are a list of people who work with children who do not need a check. On class of exempt NSW government agency staff is police.  Regulation 20 of the Child Protection (Working With Children) Regulation 2013 (NSW) says:

The following workers engaged in child-related work (and employers of those workers in that capacity) are exempt from the Act …:

(h)          a police officer or a member of the Australian Federal Police when working in his or her capacity as a police officer,

Other people, including people who enter schools are also exempt. In particular a person who

(b) … works for a period of not more than a total of 5 working days in a calendar year, if the work involves minimal direct contact with children or is supervised when children are present…

(o) a visiting speaker, adjudicator, performer, assessor or other similar visitor at a school or other place where child-related work is carried out if the work of the person at that place is for a one-off occasion and is carried out in the presence of one or more other adults.

If a firefighter’s only working with children is in the context of school presentations and they spend less than 5 days a year in the schools, or they do ‘one off’ visits in the presence of the teachers then they don’t need a clearance.

There is nothing in the Act or its regulations to suggest that the actual work of firefighting is child-related work.

It appears from the legislation that neither police nor firefighters need a working with clearance check, not that they are exempt the fees or that the government (or NSWFB or NSW Police) pays the fees for them.  Further the union is quoted by the ABC as saying ‘police and firefighters are exempt exempt from paying the $80 fee for their checks’ whereas police are expressly exempt from the need for such a check (Child Protection (Working With Children) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 20(h)).  If the union is wrong about the need for police to obtain a check, they may also be wrong about the need for firefighters to obtain a check.

My correspondent, the spouse of a firefighter wonder’s why their partner doesn’t need to get a check, not why he or she doesn’t need to pay for it.  Looking just at the legislation it certainly does seem consistent with the legislation that firefighters don’t need a check; not that they don’t have to pay for it.  On that of course my correspondent may be wrong. It may well be that there’s work done by firefighters (but perhaps not all firefighters and not my correspondent’s spouse) that is child-related work and it may be that the government or NSWFB have agreed to pay those fees on their behalf, but I confess to feeling that this is unlikely.

If that’s true it puts the ambulance industrial action in a different light.  The claim that ‘it’s not fair that firefighters, police and paramedics ALL need a check but only paramedics have to pay’ is quite different to the claim that ‘it’s not fair that we need a check when firefighters and police don’t’.