THE NSW industrial umpire has ordered the government to put off for another week a policy of temporary closures of fire stations as a way of reining in costs.
A private mediation session between the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) and Fire and Rescue NSW was held in the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) in Sydney on Thursday afternoon, as the union fights against $64 million of budget cuts to employee entitlements planned over four years.
Justice Frances Backman ordered a week-long delay in the policy of having up to eight Sydney fire stations temporarily shut down a day so firefighters could fill shortages elsewhere as the government clamps down on overtime cost blowouts.
Shortly before the private mediation session began, counsel for Fire and Rescue NSW Bernard King told the IRC that 14 firefighter jobs a month could be lost if employee expenses were not reined in.
“If they don’t think this is the right strategy, are they effectively saying job cuts are okay?” Mr King asked at the public hearing.
NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins told reporters after the hearing he did not know where the figure of 14 job losses a month came from.
“On the back of a writing pad, some number that might come to that … I’m not privy to those calculations,” Mr Mullins told reporters.
The FBEU’s state secretary Jim Casey said the policy of temporarily shutting down fire stations would threaten public safety.
“Houses will burn and lives will be lost,” Mr Casey told reporters.
But Mr Mullins said up to eight fire stations could be taken offline in Sydney each day “without compromising our response-time capabilities”.
Mr Casey said Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher had promised to raise the issue of temporary fire station closures when cabinet met on Wednesday next week.
The union met the minister on Thursday afternoon before the IRC hearing.
The IRC sits again on Thursday next week.