Aspiring male firefighter alleges discrimination as more women recruited
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Aspiring male firefighter alleges discrimination as more women recruited

An aspiring firefighter has launched a challenge of ACT Fire and Rescue's equal opportunity recruitment policy - which aims for a 50/50 gender representation of trainees in new hiring rounds.

The man is arguing that the policy discriminates against men.

In 2016 ACT Fire and Rescue introduced an equal opportunity recruitment policy designed to address the organisation's gender imbalance.

In 2016 ACT Fire and Rescue introduced an equal opportunity recruitment policy designed to address the organisation's gender imbalance.Credit:Rohan Thomson

In documents filed with the ACT Human Rights Commission last year, the man noted that of the 802 applications Fire and Rescue received for new firefighters last year, 144 were women.

He said that meant women had a much greater chance at securing a spot in 2016, even though many men had scored higher in the required tests, including for strength, fitness and the beep test.

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"Career firefighting is a dangerous role that requires an exceptionally high degree of fitness and endurance and strength," he wrote.

"Only the very best should be offered positions.

"A burning building, raging storm or any other event won't back off in the name of gender equality."

He also argued that the policy was unfair to existing women firefighters who had been recruited before the policy was introduced, and whose positions it undermined.

The bottom line, he said, was that "females have an unfair advantage in this recruitment process and so this is a violation of equality and therefore gender-based discrimination."

The policy was introduced in 2016. A corresponding recruitment drive resulted in a five-fold increase in women applicants for the college that year and four of the 16 new firefighters were women.

Before 2016, there were six women in a force of more than 300.

The man had first lodged his complaint with the Human Rights Commission, where it was rejected. The commission found that the complaint lacked substance, as the recruitment policy was a "special measure" under the ACT's human rights laws.

The man asked the commission to refer his complaint to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which it did on November 19.

The government fought back, and attempted to have the tribunal strike out the man's claim. It said among other things that the man did not have standing to launch the challenge. The government had been unable to speak to the man, or establish if he had ever applied for a firefighting job. He had ignored emails and subpoenas that asked him to show he had applied for a job with ACT Fire and Rescue.

The man said he had applied, but the government had no record of his name in the last recruitment round. The tribunal noted however, that he may have used a different name, and had expressed concerns his complaint may compromise future applications.

The tribunal said his self-stated desire to be a firefighter was standing enough, and further that his prospects of him becoming a firefighter had been compromised by the policy.

"Arguably, as a consequence of such equal opportunity policies, there will be fewer places for male applicants, the standard for male applicants will be higher, and those male applicants who are not at the top of the selection process may miss out where they otherwise would have been successful," Senior Member Heidi Robinson said.

She rejected the ACT government's request to strike out the claim.

A spokesman for the emergency services minister, Mick Gentleman, told Fairfax Media last week it would not be appropriate to comment on the case, as it was currently before the tribunal.

But the spokesman said ACT government recruitment processes meet all statutory requirements, and he reaffirmed the ACT Emergency Services Agency's commitment to the policy and increasing diversity across all of its services.

The spokesman pointed to Fire and Rescue NSW, the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service, which had all set 50/50 gender recruitment targets.

Canberra's 50/50 target would remain in place for the future, he said.

There won't be a hearing on the man's complaint, but the tribunal said it will make a decision after it had considered both sides.

Both parties were ordered to file final material by April 28.

Fairfax Media attempted to contact the man for this story.

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times