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The Empire Strikes Back

NSW Fire Stations Closures: the Empire strikes back?

  • O’Farrell has ordered that FRNSW management cut employee-related costs by $25M per annum;
  • The only way this can be achieved is by cutting overtime, wages, conditions and/or jobs;
  • The savings required exceed the entire FRNSW overtime bill, so even the complete elimination of all overtime (an impossible goal) would still not be enough to avoid job cuts.

And the Union’s response

Commissioner Mullins has urged us to work with him “to avoid the prospect of workforce reductions”. While we’re prepared to consider different ways of doing things, the Union’s officials have already ruled out cutting existing award wages or conditions. This leaves a reduction in overtime as the only option left before jobs cuts.

The Union supported a reduction of overtime via extra permanent and retained firefighter jobs and a reduction in firefighters’ sick leave before this budget crisis hit. We will continue to do so. The Union also opposed the introduction of TOLing of retained brigades in 2008 and will continue to do so.

Commissioner Mullins argues that we need to commence TOLing permanent stations to avoid forced job losses. The Union’s officials have no reason to believe that Mr Mullins is being anything other than sincere on this point. We also believe that he is dead set wrong. Once started, where does TOLing stop? Does anyone seriously believe that the Department will continue to run with 630 permanent relieving staff when it can simply close a station instead? TOLing is not the answer – it is the start of a race to the bottom and a guarantee of more job cuts, not less.

All of this is explained in considerably more detail in the correspondence from the Department  and the Union’s response.

TOLing: so what is the Union doing?

The Union’s officials have developed a number of responses to O’Farrell’s attack on firefighters, much of which will not (for obvious reasons) be detailed here. As confirmed in the previous item, the State Committee is flatly opposed to any extension of TOLing or reduction of safe and effective minimum staffing levels. In the short term:

  • the Union has notified the Industrial Relations Commission of a dispute, with the matter listed before Justice Backman this coming Monday at 0930 hrs;
  • I will be meeting the Minister next Thursday, 2 August and have requested that no action be taken by FRNSW in the interim; and
  • the Union has written to the Department inviting further discussion over a series of possible cost saving initiatives.

Preparations are well advanced in the event that the Department does commence TOLing and separate Union notices and instructions will be issued to members if and when required. More to follow…

Standing Union advice regarding outduties, stand-bys and safe and effective minimum staffing

Members are reminded that the following, well established arrangements remain in place and should continue to be observed, irrespective of any direction or order to the contrary from FRNSW management, until advised otherwise by way of further Union notice:

  1. No retained pumper is to respond or remain on-line unless it is known that at least four retained firefighters from the station are available to answer the call (see FRNSW Standing Orders “Retained firefighter response coverage and crewing levels”).
  2. No permanent pumper is to respond or remain on-line without at least one Station Officer and three firefighters (permanent or retained) present on the appliance.
  3. Only permanent firefighters (ie, LF rank and below) can perform outduties or stand-by duties;
  4. No firefighter may be directed to use their own vehicle, and the Department must provide return transport for any permanent firefighter who is directed to perform an outduty or stand-by duty without prior notice (see Permanent Award subclause 12.12). To avoid doubt:

(a)     the term “prior notice” means prior to the conclusion of your last rostered shift; and

(b)     nothing in this advice should be taken to mean that a member must either request that the Department provide transport, or that they may not choose to use their own vehicle.

  1. Station Officers cannot be directed (or choose) to perform outduties or stand-by duties without breaching the Award.
  2. An officer (Inspector or above) who orders another officer (Station Officer or above) to perform an out-duty or stand-by duty is (a) issuing an unlawful order and (b) exposed to disciplinary charges for breach of Regulation 17(c) – A firefighter must not abuse the firefighter’s authority by acting oppressively towards a subordinate”.

 FBEU fined $11,000 for LSV Dispute

 The Industrial Court has fined the Union $11,000 for last October’s LSV dispute industrial action (see SITREP 42/2011, 46/2011 and 9/2012).

Dispute orders were made by the IRC during the LSV/injured firefighters dispute after the Department walked away from our LSV staffing agreement and the Union then responded with relieving bans. The prosecution proceeded despite the fact that the Department eventually did agree to observe our agreement, but the day after the dispute orders were made and with our bans still in place.

The Department sought the current maximum penalty for the contraventions ($10,000 for the first day, and $5,000 for the second day). Justice Boland instead ordered a fine of $7,500 for the first day, and $3,500 for the second day. Whilst the Union is obviously disappointed that any fines were imposed, Justice Boland did make these observations with regard to the behaviour of the Department:

“However, in his letter to Mr Casey late on 21 October 2011 (and after Ritchie C had made the dispute orders) Commissioner Mullins agreed to observe the “status quo”, which he belatedly said was “essentially the same as the 2010 arrangements”. It is apparent that the applicant’s position outlined in the Commissioner’s letter of 21 October 2011 could have been put to the FBEU at an earlier time and any bans could have been entirely avoided.” (Para 32)

“Another mitigating factor is the applicant declining to acknowledge there was any agreement of the nature claimed by the FBEU, only to accept on 22 October that it would accept a status quo that was essentially the same as the 2010 arrangements.” (Para 43)

Small wonder they’ve got no money. This was (yet another) totally unnecessary dispute which cost the Department, according to its own evidence, almost $200K only to end up agreeing to observe the LSV staffing agreement anyway. Here is the link to the full judgment.

Easter Sunday public holiday dispute update

Further to SITREP 25/2012 wherein we reported on our Easter Sunday public holiday dispute win, the Department has now advised that the additional consolidated leave for those members who worked on Easter Sunday 2011 or 2012 was expected to be credited by the end of this week.

Permanent members of Inspector rank or below should now check their consolidated leave balances to ensure that they have now been adjusted as follows:

for those who worked on Easter Sunday 2011 (24 April):

  • A Platoon = 6 hours consolidated leave (1800 to 2400 hours);
  • B Platoon = 8 hours consolidated leave (0001 to 0800 hours);
  • D Platoon = 10 hours consolidated leave (0800 to 1800 hours) and
  • E Platoon = 12 hours consolidated leave (0600 to 1800 hours).

for those who worked on Easter Sunday 2012 (8 April):

  • A Platoon = 10 hours consolidated leave (0800 to 1800 hours);
  • B Platoon = 6 hours consolidated leave (1800 to 2400 hours);
  • C Platoon = 8 hours consolidated leave (0001 to 0800 hours) and
  • E Platoon = 12 hours consolidated leave (0600 to 1800 hours).

Jim Casey
State Secretary

About Darin Sullivan (1968 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is 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. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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