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 Checks’ ABC 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’.
No fee to pay if it’s for Voluntary services.
So that’s relevant for Honorary ambulance officers but not employed paramedics or FRNSW firefighters.
All I know is that our RFS Brigade has a number members (including me) with current WWCC and there was no fee to pay. My understanding is that the fee is payable if you’re earning income from working with children, but none for voluntary/no income services.
It’s true. The exemption for volunteers is in s 17. I didn’t put it in the post as I didn’t think it was relevant but I’ll add it to be complete.
As an RFS volunteer what we have seen is it is driven more by the schools, they ask that everyone in attendance have that check even though legislation does not necessarily require it.
Our District is involved with running a number of Cadet programmes at local Secondary Schools (including a Special Education School) and to be involved we are all required to have WWCC – all provided via the RMS at $0. Also handy (but not actually required) for local Cub & Scout station visits.
It’s important to understand that it is the head of the school principal that is on the chopping block if they allow anyone without the mandated clearances on to the school grounds and something happens to one of the students.
So Michael, if a permanent employee of FRNSW attends more than 5 school educational visits in a year, they would need a working with children check, and if they attend assist Ambulance calls, or Medical First Response calls to the general public they would need a working with children check, is this correct?
Not necessarily. If they attend the schools for ‘one off’ visits as a special presenter then they don’t need one (r 20(o)_. Query what that means – but going to a school even a number of times may be each ‘one off’ unlike say the RFS/SES cadet scheme where there is a program of visits.
And with respect to the role of fire brigades as provide first response to medical calls it could be argued that the fire brigade is then providing ambulance services, that is ‘services relating to the work of rendering first aid to, and the transport of, sick and injured persons’ (Health Services Act 1997 (NSW) s 3 and Dictionary, definition of ‘ambulance services’) in which case they would need one. But no doubt the government could argue that the ambulance service provides ambulance services and NSWFR provide firefighting and first aid but not first aid and transport so it isn’t ambulance services. But who’s going to prosecute them to put those two arguments before a court for resolution; in which case all they need is an argument.
And they don’t need to be a permanent employee, a retained firefighter is an employee too.
As far as I am aware a new FRNSW logo has already been designed, (which includes the green + sign known worldwide to link the FRNSW in with Medical First Response) new medical terminology is on their computer systems, and many paid retained stations are already performing Community First Response, without these mandatory working with children checks,. According to 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. FRNSW is providing Ambulance Services, just they are doing it from a fire truck.
That’s certainly an argument, but as I say, who’s going to test it? But it certainly may arise if a firefighter does something untoward, and if the court agrees with this argument, then FRNSW would have to ensure it’s firefighters got a check; but the alternative argument does exist so until it’s resolved they can argue they don’t need it.
Interesting, thank you Michael
An interesting question here that has been raised.
In Tasmania we do require our firefighters (career and volunteer) to have a Working with Children Card, those involved with the junior cadets and school fire education programs in particular.
A risk assessment was taken across the organisation to determine where we needed to have the clearances, in many situations also a requirement of our clients (for example Education are very clear what their requirements are).
As it is something we require our staff to have, in order to do the work we ask of them, we pay.
I continue to read your posts with interest,
Community Fire Safety Division
Phone (03) 6230 8612| Mobile 0429 832 625 | Fax (03) 6234 6647
Wouldn’t FRNSW incidents like: rescuing children from a burning building, or rescuing children trapped in a car, little Jonny’s finger stuck in bath plug be considered child related employment?
Maybe Ambulance Rescue is needed back in Sydney and other areas to cover the working with children incidents.
You have to read the Act (s 6) and it’s regulation but on the face of it I don’t see it. Do those roles – rescue etc fit any of the roles in this list?
It’s only child-related work if it involves:
(a) mentoring and counselling services for children,
(b) child protection services,
(c) the provision of health care in wards of hospitals where children are treated and the direct provision of other child health services [and the regulation says this includes ‘ambulance services’ but it dos not say ‘first aid’ or ‘fire fighting services’ so the fire brigades could argue that even if they’re providing a first response service, it’s not an ‘ambulance service’ as they don’t transport the patient],
(d) clubs, associations, movements, societies or other bodies (including bodies of a cultural, recreational or sporting nature) providing programs or services for children,
(e) respite care or other support services for children with a disability,
(f) education and care services, child care centres, nanny services and other child care,
(g) schools or other educational institutions (other than universities) and private coaching or tuition of children [but not the relevant exemptions in r 20 quoted in the post],
(h) sporting, cultural or other entertainment venues used primarily by children and entertainment services for children,
(i) detention centres (within the meaning of the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987 ) and juvenile correctional centres (within the meaning of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 ),
(j) any religious organisation,
(k) refuges used by children, long term home stays for children, boarding houses or other residential services for children and overnight camps for children,
(l) transport services especially for children, including school bus services and taxi services for children with a disability and supervision of school road crossings,
(m) any other service for children prescribed by the regulations.