December 4, 1997

4th December, 1997

To Rescue/Bushfire Section &

1, 8, 15, 20, 36, 59, 63, 68, 75, 84, 86, 260, 503 Stns

Dear Comrades,

RE: USAR & THE NSWFB

I have recently become aware that some members have been led to believe the Union’s recent bans and limitations have impeded the NSWFB’s attempts for a larger stake in USAR. Regrettably, some within management are taking every opportunity to spread this misinformation in a shoddy attempt to deflect criticism from themselves, and to have a cheap shot at the Union in the bargain.

Whilst industrial action started 7/11, the Union’s bans on all training – including USAR – only came into effect Monday 24/11. The Department cancelled the USAR course that day, despite the possibility of a resolution to the dispute within 24 hours or so (the bans were actually lifted 26/11). Indeed, the Union advised the Department not to cancel, because the bans were expected to be lifted shortly, certainly before the end of the week – a full week before the start of the USAR course.

It might just be coincidental, but the highest period for absenteeism (and therefore overtime) within the Brigades is the Christmas/New Year Period, and the USAR course was going to cause large absences over four platoons during this time. The Union learnt that the Regions (who carry the o/t bill) were opposed to the course being held before late January, because

1. the worst period for o/t would have passed by then, &
2. a new class of recruits would have graduated from the college by this time, helping to balance the absences and resulting o/t caused by the USAR course.

I now understand some sections of Departmental management were almost pleased with (this aspect of) the Union’s bans because the Department was given the excuse to cancel the December USAR course and reschedule for January ‘98.

For whatever reason, some people have seemingly spent the last week telling everyone and anyone who would listen that the Union has destroyed any chances the NSWFB had of gaining a greater stake in USAR. What they won’t tell you is that last year the Union – not the Department – had to step in to make sure the NSWFB was represented in USAR at all.

Mid-last year the Union actually intervened at the political level after the Department had failed to secure NSWFB representation on the State Rescue Board’s newly established USAR sub-committee. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the Union’s actions it’s possible that there now wouldn’t be any role for the NSWFB in USAR. This is but one example of the “behind the scenes” work the Union frequently does on behalf of members – and indeed, on behalf of the Department. It’s possible that even the Rescue/Bushfire Section’s members are not aware that this happened. I would have been happy to let it stay that way (behind the scenes) if it wasn’t for the bullshit now circulating that “the Union killed any hope we had of getting USAR”. Not only is it wrong, it’s offensive.

No one should lose sight of the real issue at stake in that recent dispute – your superannuation benefits and your long-term job-security. I’ll personally stand by the view that these issues are far more important to members than any training course. The fact that the dispute had to drag on for as long as it did (or even start) is certainly regrettable, but it was and remains the Department’s fault. We responded in a collective manner and steadily increased our level of industrial action until all activities outside of direct response to incidents were banned – including training.

USAR was neither singled out nor exempted from those bans – it was simply included as part of a general Union defence against the Department’s actions. Certainly, the Union neither forced the cancellation of the USAR course, nor harmed the Brigades’ ongoing efforts for a greater stake in USAR. To the contrary, it is our Union which helped secure the Brigades’ initial involvement in USAR, and our Union which always has and will continue to support a greater role for the NSWFB in the provision of rescue generally.

We have won many gains in recent years, not the least being more than 30% wage rises. Our most recent dispute was won for the same reason as all of the others – we’ve been united. Let’s stay that way.

Yours fraternally,

Chris Read,

State Secretary