FBEU proposed Awards 2023 v2

Typos, errors, and promises....

Since my first post on the Union’s draft Awards, the deadline for feedback from members over the Xmas / new Year break has closed, with little to no engagement from officials on the unofficial Facebook sites the Union now uses for online discussion.

At time of writing, some members have reported contact from Union staff and reps. My correspondence and feedback to the Union Office, State Secretary, President, and Illawarra Sub-Branch rep have not been responded to. Other members have reported a similar experience.

The State Secretary has issued another SITREP, this time with a 2 page info sheet, and an updated version of the proposed Award.

Worth noting at this point is the bizarre position from our elected officials that both the proposed 2 hour reduction to the minimum payment for a recall and the UFUA standard of “7 on the fireground” were typos/errors in the original draft. This must be scrutinized, not glazed over. These are far from minor errors – either the entire State Committee (17 Officials) missed those errors/typos, or they did read them but all missed them, or they were not “typos” but errors of judgment.

It is inconceivable that these were typos. These were not simple misspelt words not picked up by spell check, they were obvious numbers in pivotal Award proposals that could not be missed if read by Officials. It is also inconceivable that the drafts were not read by Officials. At least one Official publicly expressed reservations about the “7 on the fireground”.

If I’m half right about all that, no matter which way we analyse this, our officials are publicly misleading FBEU members. No small issue.

That aside, the 2 page information sheet is light on for detail and does not cover anywhere near all of the proposed changes.

It does cover:

  • 7 RESPONDING TO THE FIREGROUND – Clause 40 – Safe Staffing and Systems of Work (the “sorry about the typos, we meant 8” narrative.). Just not believable. Just admit it was a bad idea and feedback was taken on board;
  • RECALL TO DUTY: Clause 29 – Overtime (Sorry, that was a drafting error, we didn’t really propose that reduction);
  • CONTRACTING OUT: Clause 39 – Security, Safety of Work and Classifications. This makes a bit more sense with some background, but it’s hard to understand why we would invite this risk into our Award. Again, just admit it was a bad idea and feedback was taken on board;
  • MEDICAL FIRST RESPONSE: Clause 41 – Medical First Responder Program. I still oppose this inclusion given the membership policy is clear – we have not endorsed doing this work without a general meeting. This inclusion is in conflict with our general meeting position on MFR;
  • NO EVIDENCE SICK LEAVE: Clause 47 – Sick Leave. Not contentious;
  • EXTENSION OF THE 28 DAYS TO 3 MONTHS: Clause 28 – Higher Duties. The intent here is now clearer, but there are no costings, and no indication what it is worth. Why not keep the 28 days Rule and seek to achieve the staffing minimums as well? It doesn’t matter which way we skin this cat, reducing our rights from 28 days to 3 months absolutley means less SOs and less Insp’s, so what is that trade off worth?

What the information sheet doesn’t cover:

  • PRODUCTIVITY: Clause 9 – I haven’t seen this discussed online anywhere yet, but 9.2 basically says the Dept is free to introduce change during the life of the award and the Union is then free to claim them in the next award negotiations. This appears to me to be either industrially naïve (now called “typos” apparently) or copied and pasted from somewhere. Our employer will jump at this. It should instead be clear that any cost savings arising from a proposed productivity change will be identified and agreed upon BEFORE the change proceeds, and so with guaranteed payment in the next award. The proposed clause that says the Union can attempt to claim them AFTER the horse has bolted and all leverage has been lost;
  • COSTINGS: How the following is going to be paid for as per the Wages policy: Pay increases of 8.2% + 6% + 6% + 4.5% Superannuation increases, + 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, + cost of rehab units, + Ops Support (to be renamed for unknown reasons?) payments for education certs, + various leave increases, + increases in Retained pay rates and allowances, etc. The Govt will require all of this come out of our existing conditions. Where? As expressed by many FBEU members recently, our Union couldn’t muster up the courage to dispute the recent .3% pay offer. We accepted the lowest pay increase in a generation but we’re going to get over 20%++? 
  • OPERATIONAL SUPPORT: Why are we proposing a re-brand of OS? Does the shift to “station based/non-station based” employees change the nature of these roles?
  • LEADING RANKS: How the new LF/LSO programs will work? It has not been made clear by officials why the LF and LSO programs, progression and promotion can’t be developed and resourced like they were agreed to in 2014. If they couldn’t do so then, why would the Dept do it for the new proposal? Further, the proposed system looks like it adds more cost to the model. If the Union couldn’t hold the Dept to the current model, what makes us think they will resource a more expensive model? Which of our Award entitlements will pay for that?
  • HEALTH CHECKS AND D&D: No background on the health screening and D&D changes. How does the mountain of work the Union has done over the last twenty years just get amended and simplified in a few clause changes, without any advice or history from previous staff who established these systems and defended them in the IRC countless times;
  • INTRASTATE DEPLOYMENT: Is this proposed clause the same or worse than members currently receive for that work?
  • STRATEGY: How does the Union intend to prosecute this unachievable pay claim? I predict it will take historic strike and industrial action, sustained over many months, to achieve even half of what our Officials are proposing here. This will require much political capital, trust, and militancy. What’s the plan?

As you can see, there is more NOT in the information sheet than there IS in the information sheet.

Pay close attention to what is being promised in these Draft Awards, and what is actually achieved at the end. The Union is proposing ridiculous pay rises and conditions that it cannot and will not secure for members. In my view, this is therefore cynical, popularist, propaganda aimed at motivating and activating the membership using failed promises and disappointment. Failures blamed on everyone else, at the membership’s expense.

Both the Dept and the Union now have a history of Awards over 4 years that have promised much change, changed nothing, and delivered nothing but late, below inflation, pay rises and mediocrity.

“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.” – Leighton Drury.

Watch that space.

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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