FBEU President’s Report 2011

FBEU President’s Report 2011
For FBEU annual Journal

Since the success of the FBEU Centenary and a busy start to this year, the Union has had a lot of issues to deal with, not least of which was the 2011 Award for permanent and retained members. State Committee representatives have been organising really well around the two special general meetings we’ve already had this year, culminating in the most sub-branch meetings ever held in one SGM. We’ve also had the added pressure of the campaign against the NSW Liberal Governments new IR laws and wages policy.

2001 Awards

The result of our Award negotiation was heavily dictated by the electoral cycle, and the impending annihilation of the NSW Labor Party. State Committee sent recommendations to statewide special general meetings to:

– defend our Awards (no loss of Award conditions permanent and retained);

– take the tactical option of returning the February date for permanent members (pay rises earlier every year achieving compound increases), and strategically shortening the date for retained Award;

– accept a $500 (perm) and $100 (ret) backpay bonus payment.

For permanent members, this meant a total pay rise over the 3 years to approx 9%, including a 5% pay rise between July 2011 and Feb 2012. On top of that, for retained members we were able to put a bigger gap between the two Awards so as to better resource the negotiation of the retained Award.

Our advice was democratically endorsed by the rank and file at the best attended Union meetings in many years. The negotiation was done on the eve of the NSW Government going into caretaker mode, and it gave us space to see what the new NSW Coalition will bring to the public service. As we advised prior to signing off, we certainly haven’t seen any award pay rise bonanza’s given to NSW workers since the Coalition came into government, which makes our decision a wise one with hindsight. In fact, we have now seen the very behaviour from this government that we warned of – an open threat to all public sector awards and conditions in the form of the O’Farrell Government’s wages policy. Our collective decision has now proved to be a sound strategic move. In amongst all of that, we secured a pay rise above 2.5% without losing conditions, and without heavier workloads – I’d call that a first.

Rescue training – now there’s no excuse

For several years we’ve seen a gradual bottle neck of rescue training for firefighters. While our members are doing the best they can at the various training sections, budgets and restructures have put pressures on training at all levels. For rescue, we saw a system change from on-shift training, to a dedicated course at Holsworthy. The course was highly regarded, and those undertaking the course rated it well, but we slowly saw frustration creep in where members at stations couldn’t get onto the courses. Because of this process, firefighters were placed on rescue courses in order determined by managers, each with competing interests and needs. As costs for the course were questioned at high levels, we started to see pressure from the Department to return to on-shift training. I personally saw an undercurrent start emerge at station level from the Department suggesting that they would love to train more firefighters in rescue, but the ‘Union wouldn’t let them’, because we wanted to know the details. Well, with the 2011 Award, we sought payment in our wages for a return to on-shift training, and we got it. The Department raised this with the Union over two years ago, plenty of time to prepare policy for it. There is no excuse anymore not to train you at station level. We call on the Department to start the roll out of an on-shift rescue training package for our members ASAP – the ball is in their court.

Logistical Support Vehicle nightmares

The Department’s mismanagement of the Logistical Support Vehicle continues, but the Union continues to expect that the deal made in the IRC be upheld. We’ve seen a system put in place where the LSV’s need to be managed by LSV co-ordinators, only to find that our employer hasn’t maintained staffing of those co-ordinators, and so the whole system falls over on a daily basis. High ranking officers, business managers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payers money, all put in to manage these types of operational issues, and the best we can see in the outcome is an ad-hoc, embarrassing system of fail to responds, lack of fireground resources, and breaches of commitments to OH&S. The Union maintains that if the Department hold up their side of the bargain, this system can work.

On a brighter note, we are seeing the return of firefighters from workers compensation injuries, and off-duty injuries, being afforded via dignified and meaningful work on some LSV’s. The enhancement of staffing at the five country stations is complete, and the Union has seen some of the benefits that were intended by the LSV reform. Now, if only the Department could sort out their end. The Union continues to negotiate in good faith around this issue, and we may even see an increase in staffing at least one LSV station, putting us ahead overall for staffing – watch this space.

Please also see the LSV story later in this edition.

Carry on at Kariong

The Union’s ban instructing that Kariong FRNSW be responded to any and all reported MVA’s occurring on the F3 Freeway between the Hawkesbury Bridge and the Ourimbah exit (see SITREP 11/2011) has had an immediate impact in highlighting a common problem around the State – RFS fail to responds and ad hoc incident response. Just prior to this instruction, the ‘association’ that is supposed to represent RFS members (the RFSA), publicly attacked the FBEU for a leaflet drop that we had nothing to do with, and went on a bizarre attack against concerned local residents. Perhaps the RFSA should spend more time trying to improve the safety standards of RFS members, and listening to concerned residents, rather than undermining both those groups. FBEU members can rest assured that I spoke directly with the President of the RFSA to make this very point.

Linking with associate/retired members

State Committee of Management recently gave me authority to look at ways to better communicate and network with our associate/retired members, and I am currently in the process of discussing this with the ‘retired members association’. Retired and ‘soon to be retired’ members are reminded that the Union now has a policy of $5.00 per year for Associate Membership with the FBEU, to receive our journal, and to remain on our database for some mail outs. I hope to build on our relationship with associate members, who are a very important part of our union ‘family’.

Delegates training and communication

We are continuing to improve delegates training. A dedicated package has been purpose written, and we have dedicated industrial staff to assist our State Committee reps in rolling out this Union program. The training has been conducted in Sydney, Newcastle, and the Illawarra. If you would like to see FBEU delegate training in your area, please contact your State Committee representative.

Recently we overhauled our email and SMS systems, with the FBEU office and Exec now having direct access to lists which can email and/or SMS directly to approximately 3000 members. This is the largest improvement to these systems in our history. Members who would like to be included on these lists should contact the FBEU office.

Deeming Illnesses

While the failed UFUA continues to send more faxes and info to non-UFUA stations than it ever did when we were part of the organisation, the most recent propaganda to hit our stations has been in regard to the deeming of cancer.

The UFUA has been ‘talking’ about deeming for many years, and we are pleased to finally see something from them on the subject. We support that. In fact, the FBEU has been active around this topic for many years also, and has recently been in discussions with AFAC and FRNSW to be involved in a cohort study.

What’s often forgotten in this debate, is that it’s all very well to have an illness deemed work related, but you need safeguards once that occurs, otherwise it’s meaningless. Our Death and Disability cover means that NSW firefighters are the most protected firefighters in the country, and our workers comp is one of the few to remain intact.

While the UFUA campaign currently seeks to cover only some Australian firefighters, the FBEU maintains that all firefighting Unions in Australia should work together to protect all firefighters and our families.

ICAC investigation into FRNSW

Many will have seen the results from this inquiry. This was an investigation into FRNSW, yet the report tries to assert that some sort of ‘adversarial relationship’ with the FBEU is to blame for some of the cultural issues faced. I believe this is wrong.

One of the statements in this document actually asserts that 99% membership of the FBEU may attribute to an adversarial relationship, and unacceptable staff behaviour. The only extrapolation that I can make from that is – that a workforce is better off un-unionised. That, for mine, cuts to the core of the tone of this document. That type of comment is outside the scope, and terms of reference of this investigation.

In my opinion, this report highlights 1% of FRNSW. The results reflect senior management’s failings, and the greed and stupidity of a few. However, this will be used to overhaul 99% of a workforce that does a great job, every day, and every night.

This will be a tool that senior management will laminate and keep in the ‘briefcase of stupid resume filling ideas’, tabled at every opportunity to justify the weakening or our Award, and to justify the de-powering of every firefighter in this job.

The fact that we, as a unionised collective, dare stand up for what we think is right, that we dare to say no to factors that adversely affect safety in our workplaces, offends those in power, and offends those who are dictated by fiscal masters.

ICAC make some needless claims in this document, unhelpful, and unfounded. The references show a misunderstanding of what a Union is, and what a Union does. By all means, take a rod to the employer responsible for the isolated cases of stupidity, but leave the right wing rhetoric and ignorance out of it.

There was no need for cheap, unfounded shots at our organisation. This wasn’t about the FBEU, it was about FRNSW management – ‘the Department’.

O’Farrell over a barrel

Only weeks into their tenure, the NSW Liberal government wasted no time in unleashing a deliberate and concerted attack on public service workers, and attack which includes firefighters. As highlighted in numerous FBEU SITREP’s, the Union forum, and at special general meetings across the State, the O’Farrell government has now added to the wage restrictions we already faced by reducing the powers of the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC). No longer can a dispute with our employer (NSW Govt) be independently arbitrated without the government itself having right of veto over the decision. The IRC is now arguably an arm of government, instead of an independent court. That’s only one part of the particularly nasty set of policy and laws. The Lib’s policy will threaten our staffing, our safety, our D+D, and our workers comp.

The complete rejection of this policy by the public sector was well communicated on 15th June, when over 10,000 public sector workers and community members rallied outside Parliament House in Sydney. Approximately 200 firefighters and operational support members took stop work action, to join over 400 off-duty firefighters to participate in the rally. The FBEU led from the front that day, and were highly regarded by the thousands of fellow unionists and public sector workers. FBEU members have met with MP’s and council meetings all over the state, and we have been involved in dozens of rallies and protests, all in the space of a few weeks. As I write, we are preparing for the September 8 rally and demonstration in Sydney, which I think will be one of the biggest in NSW history. We’ve mobilised faster and more efficiently than ever before to oppose these laws, and we’ll continue to do so to help the entire public sector either abolish the O’Farrell laws, or kick his government out at the next election.

Stay organised, stay 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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