FBEU President’s report 2009

Workchoices defeated 2007 Leading the FBEU protest against workchoices

FBEU President’s Report 2009
For FBEU annual Journal

‘Full steam ahead’
Well, it’s been a baptism of fire since the close of elections, but we expected nothing less. Since taking up office with the new State Committee, member issues and major campaigns just kept on rolling in. The FBEU election gave a clear signal of what the membership expects from it’s leadership, with a strong democratic voice sorting out who will lead and how. This is something we as members have done from time to time over the decades, which is a good sign of who actually runs our Union – the membership.

Personally, I am very pleased with what we have achieved in a short period of time, and our new leadership is working very well with our hard working office staff and Industrial Officers.

We have already been able to fulfil some of our election commitments, including the new web site, updated and improved the online union forum, communication with members has been increased with the weekly newsletter (SITREP), and internally we’ve cleaned up the State Committee Standing Orders. We have an updated SCoM remuneration (coming out for ratification by you the membership), aimed at ensuring elected reps are compensated for the cost of representing the Union and ensuring service to members is maintained. New FBEU merchandise is being made available, with a new online purchase feature as well. The fact that this Journal has come out on time was another election commitment given by our new leadership and completed.

Along with the State Secretary and various union reps, I have been able to get out to regional NSW and various NSWFB sections. We attended a union meeting at Broken Hill recently, we’ve met with members on the SOPP during the recent dispute, we’ve attended the Rescue Section, several fire stations, and I even spent the night with the Comrades at Wagga Wagga (Turvey Park) on my way through there recently. On top of all of this, the State Secretary Jim Casey has been to Newcastle on a couple of occasions, as well as several other stations and sections. Our sub-branch officials are doing their best to get around their branches as well.

With important campaigns and issues like PSTP2 being fought out in the IRC, we have come close to one industrial win – one which will make all our jobs safer. After our members at 53 station were injured at an incident in October, the Union quickly highlighted a campaign that had been simmering in the background for years. Seemingly stifled by bureaucracy, was a recommendation submitted three years previously by an Illawarra firefighter to have legislation brought in for 40km/h speed limits, where emergency service workers are operating. The Union ran an effective media campaign, and after 24hrs, had commitments from the Commissioner and the Minister to action the recommendations ASAP. No doubt it will become just another health and safety issue, raised by grassroots Union members, championed by the Union, won by unity, but one which will no doubt be misquoted as an employer/Government initiative. Nonetheless, our workplace will be safer, and that’s the most important thing.

All very satisfying, but it doesn’t stop there. Quite the opposite in fact, we’ve only just begun. With more to fulfil, the ever present pressure from our Employer, and a Government continuing the traditional hypocritical finger pointing at wages and conditions of everyone but themselves, our Union must stand ready to defend what we have, and claw back what we’ve lost. I think it’s important to learn from history, and history shows that the same struggles and the same threats have always existed. And that’s the reason you hear us as your representatives, still banging on about the same catchphrases, and the same warnings of looming changes and reform – because it keeps happening, it always has, and always will.

Looking deeper – “STOP, STAND, and POINT”
However, within these normal fluctuating pressures and threats, come slight changes in managerial tactics and strategies. The ever increasing “touchy feely” approach that management has absorbed over the past twenty years is becoming ever so latent. Our employer spends so much time rewarding managers for finding new ways to do the same things cheaper, and rewarding managers for coming up with new ways to make each other look good, that there is a funky new management style in town. It’s a revolutionary idea, and they don’t have it quite right just yet, but they are giving it a go nonetheless, it’s called – “speaking to the employees”. Sounds great, only it’s a sheep in wolfs clothing Comrades, and here’s why.

When the boss comes to the worker and says, “how would you like a new roster?”. It aint that simple. When the employer deals directly with a small portion of the employees, our entire roster system is at risk. When the employer comes and sits down with you, has a cuppa and says, “lets work out the problems here, I have some shiny tools that can fix this section”, you can bet your best interests are not at heart. Why would they be? That’s why we have Unions, to do the bargaining for us, to make sure that the majority of the workforce are not done over in the process, to make sure decades of hard work are not undermined, and to maintain consistency.

Here’s the important part of this message – when a Manager comes to your station or section, and wants to talk about rosters, wages and conditions, STOP, STAND, and POINT.

STOP the manager, STAND your ground, and POINT to the phone, because that’s how that Manager is going to ring your Union. The Union negotiates your rosters and wages and conditions. To deal direct is to undermine and divide. Make no mistake, we already have the bosses reps coming to the Union and saying, “Well, we’ve spoken to your members already, and they want this”. Unions exist for a reason. This is the stuff we’ve fought for –  for 99 years.

Final words….
Speaking of 99 years, next year is the FBEU Centenary, and we are planning for this auspicious occasion already. Any members wishing too help, your ideas and assistance would be appreciated.

With the passing of another year, unfortunately sees the passing of Brothers, Sisters, and Comrades. A special thought to those we lost this year, and thoughts for the family, friends and workmates of Comrade Andrew ‘Packy’ Turnbull from Kingscliff, who died on duty.

And finally, a thankyou to all delegates and members who work so hard at ground level, to make this Union what it is, and what it always has been – militant and united.

Darin Sullivan

About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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