NSW firefighters are threatening to target Coalition electorates for industrial action. Photo: Simon Alekna
THE firefighters union is threatening to target Coalition electorates for industrial action if the state government presses ahead with budget savings that may force stations to close temporarily.
The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union has lodged a dispute in the Industrial Relations Commission, to be heard this morning, about proposals to cope with the $64 million in budget cuts needed over the next four years.
One option proposed by Fire and Rescue NSW to rein in spending is for a few stations to be ”taken offline”, or closed, for up to 14 hours when they are understaffed, with the remaining firefighters sent to other stations.
The union’s state secretary, Jim Casey, said the cuts compromised safety and the union was considering work bans on staff moving to stations in Coalition electorates if it meant other stations had to be taken offline. The bans would not apply to stations in electorates held by Labor, Greens and independent MPs.Advertisement
”The FBEU is fundamentally opposed to these budget cuts. They will compromise community safety,” Mr Casey said. ”Among the options before the union is the idea of ensuring that any station taken offline be limited to stations covering electorates who voted for the O’Farrell government.”
The Emergency Services Minister, Mike Gallacher, criticised the union over the threat.
”If the FBEU intend on taking this matter to the IRC, surely the union would await the outcome before making threats,” a spokeswoman for the minister said.
Fire and Rescue NSW said up to three stations on a weekday and six at the weekend might be forced offline. Its commissioner, Greg Mullins, said he hoped savings could be achieved by other means, such as cutting overtime, which had risen by $7 million last financial year, and sick leave.
If not, he said, temporary closures would not compromise response times or public safety. On any given day, up to 15 of the state’s 94 stations were pulled offline for various reasons, he said.
”I hope that when we go to the industrial commission, the union will see what we’re trying to do is nothing different to a normal day in Sydney, where we take stations offline for training, education, hazard-reduction burn-offs,” Mr Mullins said.
The opposition’s emergency services spokesman, Nathan Rees, said the city needed more fire stations, not fewer. ”Barry O’Farrell has tried to get this out as the Olympics are starting and, of course, the workforce is going to be annoyed,” he said. ”You cannot rip $64 million out of the fire brigade budget without public safety being compromised.”