At time of writing, the official FBEU online discussion forum remains closed by the current leadership (since the 2019). Draft Awards (Perm/Retained/D&D) have been released by FBEU Secretary, Leighton Drury, for consideration over the xmas/new year break. Cynically, we have from 23 Dec- Jan 4 to provide that feedback. Regardless, below are my initial thoughts on these proposed/draft Awards, albeit without any detailed feedback, analysis or clear tracked changes from our officials yet. This will form my feedback to the Union. Sorry for the length of this, it is obviously a big document.
There is a valiant attempt here to include some of our conditions that exist outside the Awards and place them inside the Awards. This is not a new idea. In 2012-2013, former staff and officials wrote and negotiated a detailed and considered “Conditions Award” that stood separate to the main Awards. It ultimately ended up in the IRC but then fell into dispute and was then shelved due to other disputes at the time, but the point here is that we already know that trying to place all of these things into one Award is very difficult to achieve. Trying to include a large amount of conditions into an exisiting Award is ambitious, but the Dept will argue that doing so is outside the NSW Govt Wages policy. This is too much, too quick in my view. Something worth pursuing, but needs better execution.
There’s a vibe here that FBEU officials old and new are trying to forge a new path – and fair enough. However, the 2019 loss of all of our experienced staff zeroed our organisational memory. That poor management was forecast to impact our ability to prosecute difficult reform and achieve strong results. As the following analysis shows, that prediction looks accurate.
Copy and paste?
There appears to be entire sections and concepts copied and pasted from UFUA EBA documents. Perhaps not an atrocity in itself, but if we are going to copy structures and standards in that process – be careful what it achieves. Seven (7) firefighters on the fireground? This is clearly a UFUA standard and definition, but that figure was done in a workforce with lower minimum staffing standards than ours – SO+2 in that example. Seven on the fireground in that (UFUA Vic) standard did not undermine their staffing, it possibly enhanced or protected their inferior standard. Not the case for us. With a minimum staffing standard of SO+3, even acknowledging the retained elephant in the room (response with 2 and 2 on the way), agreeing to 7 on the fireground opens the door to reduced staffing for us. Why open that door? Wrong way, turn back.
You get a car, you get a car, you get a car!
These Awards propose the following increased payments to FRNSW staff:
- Pay increases of 8.2%, 6%, and 6%
- Superannuation +4.5%
- Tech change % increases
- Allowance increases
- Licenses paid for
- Childcare paid for
- 5.5% on call allowance
- 1 hour pay for off duty contact
- Special leave (ie OT incurred) for more Union events
- Rehab units
- Ops support (renamed for unknown reasons?) payments for education certs
- Various leave increases
- Increases in Retained pay rates and allowances
Don’t get me wrong, sign me up for all of that and I’ll take a car from Oprah too, but pretty much all of that will be laughed out of Treasury. I know sitting around the mess room table we know we deserve better, I agree, but we have to be credible about how we negotiate and how we look in any IR negotiation. This will not be taken seriously by anyone in the Dept, anyone in treasury, and certainly by anyone in government – even IF the ALP win government next year. We look ridiculous turning up with this – Dennis Denuto looked smarter in “The Castle”.
Industrially, where is the money coming from for this? The NSW Govt Wages policy, which has limited public sector unions for a decade, is still in place. Even if this is taken half seriously, the next question will be – how will we pay for it, because they (Govt) will not. This claim completely ignores the legal requirement to fund anything above 2.5% with existing conditions.
The current State Secretary couldn’t fight or even dispute the recent .3% (that’s “point three percent”) pay offer. We accepted the lowest pay increase in a generation but he’s going to get us over 20%? Yeah right…..
Don’t judge this leadership on what they aim for, judge them on what they achieve. What did we achieve in the last 2 Awards?
We seem to be proposing to re-brand OS for unknown reasons, and some allowances appear added to limited roles but it’s worth remembering why and how Ops support came about. The Union’s membership and officials created and endorsed these roles with the principle “same pay for same work”. Meaning the spirit and intent was (and should remain IMO) that these roles be paid the same within each classification regardless of rank – ie, a QF gets paid the same as a SF does when both OS2 trainers, because they are performing the same role with the same skills. Do we want to move away from that? Ultimately that’s up to the membership, but there appears to be no memory or acknowledgment of the origins and establishment of these roles when proposing new allowances, all be them small and limited. OS needs attention. The predicted impact of promotions and health screening have not landed in OS (yet), but it’s unclear to me what genuine improvement and attention this proposal offers OS members.
LFs/LSOs: 28 day protection – eroded to 3 months
There is clearly sustained pressure on the 28 day Rule for LFs/LSOs, and it seems clear that Union is struggling to hold the line on that. So rather than holding the line on it, it appears we are going to sell it off. I wrote earlier that we need to sell something off to achieve the Oprah gifts, well here it is. This extension will save the Dept money but also reduce promotions – less SOs and less Inspectors. So how much is it worth? What are the costings?
The proposed and highlighted LF/LSO clause changes were hard to understand and make sense of. I’ll seek more info on that from an official. My view on LFs and LSOs is not that the model is broken, but that support and resourcing is being sabotaged by the Dept and not adequately defended by the Union.
There’s another small trade off with costings unclear – reducing the minimum 4 hours pay for perm, min 3 hours for retained, down to 2 hours.
The idea of creating a sub-committee for this is not a bad one, but why in the Award? That can be done anytime without being in the Award. The Govt/Dept might jump at this offer though. An Award clause that talks about MFR and establishes committees to negotiate and monitor MFR, all pretty much enshrines MFR as inevitable doesn’t it? If it is inevitable (which democratic General Meetings have already determined), then negotiate an outcome and put that in the Award. This seems half cooked, control the outcome instead.
Further, the FBEU already had a sub-committee, the report (and recommendations) of which was endorsed by a General Meeting. Unless rescinded, this new sub-committee would be bound by the Union’s sub-committee. And finally, 41.9.2 seems ambiguous – how can a member perform an MFR program if not agreed? I see the principle, but it almost concedes agreement (with 12.5% payment)? I see no reason to include any of this in the Award until there is agreement.
How to make security of work unsafe
Clause 39.1.1 – “Appointment of contractors” is an abomination.
If you ever wanted to open the door to an issue that threatens every corner of our industry, threatens our very employment, you would propose a clause that outlines how to bring contractors into our job and how much they would get paid. What genius thought it a good idea to put this industrially dangerous, historically obvious, and conceptually stupid clause in a proposed Award by our own Union? If ever you want to read a clause that should never be put into a firefighter Award, then read the FBEU proposed Cl 39. Anyone remember New Zealand in 2007? Dumb. The Govt will jump at this clause. I would vote down a 20% pay rise if it included this as the trade off.
Health screening and D&D clause 8
Another example of history being either re-written, forgotten, or both. I’m sure it’s popular and appears simple to pretend this egg can be unscrambled so easily, but that is highly unlikely. Both of these structures took decades to negotiate, defend and finalise. There have been literally dozens of IRC hearings and thousands of work hours by dozens of officials and staff over two decades to get to the point both of these issues are at. This is one of those things where if it was that easy to fix, we would have fixed it years ago. Worse still, is that whilst the proposed removal and rescission of these agreements might look better for us on the surface, we risk losing the things we fought to protect members. Think about it, the same people who thought it a good idea install the ability to use contractors in our workplace as firefighters, risk reducing our minimum staffing below SO+3, offer up the 28 day Rule, and give everyone a car – think a simple re-write of the health testing regime and the Clause 8 medical retirement clause in the D&D Award is a good idea. Good luck with that.
Intrastate deployment clause
This seems ok, and is much better than the version previously put forward – that was a shocker. This needs comparison to current payments and whether this is inferior or better.
The Drew files
North Sydney Sub-Branch Secretary, Scott Drew kindly provided some thoughts on an unofficial Facebook group, which is appreciated. Briefly, my response to his suggestions are:
Page 7 – Agree Re: Standby definition
Page 9 – Agree Re productivity
Page 12 – CPI, great, how to fund? – Super increase, great, how to fund?
Page 15 – Agree Re: bank account
Page 29 – Agree Re: LF/LSO on both counts. How much is it worth?
Page 30 – Agree Re: Recall on AL
Page 36 – Agree Re: Clause 33 – much better than the last attempt!
Page 55 – Agree Re: MFR – see above
Page 70 – Agree Re: NMCs
Page 99 – Agnostic on this. Need more info.
Solutions and suggestions
Remove the clause re: Contractors. If this is a concern, restore the Union’s credibility to the point where the Dept and Govt would not try such an atrocity. The fact that we are opening these doors looks weak, and telegraphs to the employer that we are weak.
Similarly, more militancy around the things that are already being eroded does two things – it defends the things that should be defended and sets a tone with the employer that we will not be messed with. Focus on this before taking on too much. Re-build political capital and trust with members before taking on reform.
MFR – how long will we sit idle on this? When I retired as an official I warned that we need to negotiate our way into MFR and achieve outcomes for all members. We are at the same place we were 4 years ago. Negotiate an outcome on MFR before one. is imposed on us.
Stop following the UFUA. It is a failed organisation. That’s not just my view, our 2010 Centenary General Meeting voted exactly that way. Stop it.
Stop promising things you can’t deliver. It’s not impressing anyone. It’s misleading, and it’s unfair on members. It might be a good recruitment tool for the ALP, but it is bad for members and ultimately the Union.
Sell the overtime again. Our LF/LSO reform was partly funded by predicted savings in OT, yet here we are. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – come up with strategies that are able to be done within the Wages Policy until the policy is gone. Selling OT which keeps coming back is a free kick. Use it. Pretending the Dept can or will pay us for feelings died in 2008.
Uncap the leading ranks. Start with the LSOs, they are relatively cheap by size of group, then move to the LFs. The model was designed to make hay that way. This appears forgotten by officials who were there and should know better. There is a strong case that the leading ranks are valuable and have productivity attached. Cost it, model it, and sell it. Uncapping the leading raks are pay rises for those that elect to progress into those roles.
Don’t mess with the D&D Award. The Dept will enjoy opening up their wishlist. The Health testing regime was the result of strict IRC outcomes. Focus instead on making sure the OP and Dept are not over-stepping their agreed responsibilities. Be the dogs at the gate and guard what we have before you open the gate.
Draft/proposed Retained Award
Much of my concerns for the perm Award match those of the retained Award. A big wish list and grand plans for large pay rises which won’t be achieved. Some general tweaking and updates which is fair enough, but some of the necessary updates and improvements may be drowned out and confused by the sheer size of the changes put on the table. I’m not sure of the Dept’s appetite for reform, that will dictate how this goes as well, but like the perm Award, I would judge the retained Award process not by what is proposed, but what is achieved. IMHO, anyone can propose pay rises and improved conditions to make people feel good and feel listened too, but it’s cynical to do so just for that reason, knowing you can’t and won’t actually achieve it.
Overall, these draft proposals concern me, as does the apparent wiped memory and dangerous ground being suggested. It looks amateurish and I predict they will be seen that way by Dept and Govt IR.
It looks like sections have been copied and pasted from other Awards and documents, both within our industry (UFUA) and outside our industry. We are not just “another Union” to cookie cut from inferior and less militant unions. We have a wealth of experience that has been isolated and shelved. Open, democratic discussion has been sectioned off, watered down, and put into silos. These drafts are the result of that model with the damage and risk predicted by many, now at our doorstep for perm and retained members.
If this is Leighton Drury’s golden reform and modernisation, then maybe stick to roll overs with no pay rises. He’s good at that.
In FBEU SITREP 3 on Jan 3 2020, Leighton Drury wrote, “It was overwhelmingly clear that as a collective, you were not willing to cop reductions in pay and conditions or make any trade-offs. Entering negotiations, this formed the fundamental basis of our position which we would not compromise on.”
Well, here we are 2 years to the day later, and we have an Award laced with trade offs and reductions in conditions proposed by him. Wait until the Dept lays out their solutions on how to pay for this naive, inexperienced, dangerous and popularist pay claim.
Feel free to share this with your comrades.
Former FBEU President