December 20, 2002

Inside this issue:

  • D&D dispute update
  • Meals and allowances
  • Recalls over the Xmas/New Year period
  • Union bans lifted
  • Nurses 6% wage rise

D&D Dispute Update

Negotiations on the finer details of contribution mechanisms and the like have continued since our last update six weeks ago. Whilst we can’t yet confirm full and final agreement, we’re happy to be able to say that we’re well on track for this early in the new year. So assuming everything runs to plan (which we’re confident it will), then member contributions for the new D&D arrangements will be timed to coincide with the 5% wage increase for permanent members which falls due on 5 March.

It appears that many members are not aware that they are already covered by the new D&D arrangements, and have been since January 1997. The Union was able to secure agreement for the retrospective payment of the new D&D benefits back to that date – a result which will soon see over $15M in D&D benefits being paid to former permanent and retained members (or their dependants) who passed away or who were medically retired from the Brigades over that time.

Meals and Allowances

It seems that with every major bushfire, a new round of arguments break out between the Department and the Union over the provision of meals. The latest instalment of “the worst bushfires in 30 years” was no different, with the Department recently issuing an instruction which described, in their view, what constitutes a substantial meal (eg “hamburger, chips and a drink”).

Five weeks before that instruction was issued, the Union wrote to the Department seeking to implement an agreed process for the provision of meals on the fireground. In that correspondence the Union took a responsible approach setting out guidelines that any modern employer should have embraced without difficulty. The Union suggested that in order to avoid the payment of meal allowances and to provide for safe and effective firefighting operations, meals for firefighters should:

  • be delivered in a timely manner;
  • be nutritious and balanced in line with the demands placed on firefighters undertaking strenuous activity;
  • not be of a ‘junk food’ nature;
  • be able to be consumed at the right temperature; and
  • be consumed in a clean and hygenic environment. 

The Department did not reply to that correspondence and instead decided to unilaterally impose a new standard that was not only an expression of organisational laziness – it also breached the Award.

Members are advised to ignore the Department’s “pizza and chips” approach and adhere instead to the Union’s instruction of 12 November (see also the article in the “Red Messages” section of the current NSW Firefighter). Again, members are encouraged to exercise judgement (without compromising your award rights) when assessing whether or not the meals you received could rightly be considered to be “substantial” – both in terms of their quantity and their quality.

Recalls over the Xmas/New Year period

Staff shortages have led to exceptionally high amounts of overtime being worked of late. Last Saturday night, for example, saw 15 Station Officers and 75 firefighters recalled to maintain minimum staffing.

The Department has this year again expressed the view that insufficient permanent staff may be available for recall over the coming week, particularly on Christmas day. The Department has therefore asked us to support “special arrangements” which would allow for the de-staffing of rescue appliances and reduced staffing of City of Sydney’s appliances to provide out duty staff. They have also sought our agreement to the closure of selected stations and the use of staff to cover other vacancies “if entirely necessary”. The Union has of course flatly refused.

All members who are willing and available to work overtime are urged to contact their Inspector and advise them of your availability. Further, D Platoon members who are willing to work the Christmas day shift are urged to fax or email the Union office with your name and contact details. To be frank, we need a list of guaranteed names to give to the Department when the call inevitably comes on Christmas morning to say that their inability to recall members means they’re closing stations. Don’t give them the opportunity.

Union bans lifted

It appears that many members are confused as to the present status of Union bans on “CARS” (“Community Activity Reporting Service”) and Pre-Incident Plans (PIP’s).

CARS, which was first announced by the Department in In Orders 2001/16, was banned by the Union on 21 December last year. At the time we wrote that “if the Department consults us on this new program and recognises that this extra work deserves extra remuneration then we might agree to its introduction, but not beforehand”. It took them a full 8 months, but in August the Department eventually wrote to us acknowledging that CARS did represent additional work and productivity for and by our members which would be recognised in negotiations for new Awards.

As for PIP, the Department originally issued an agreed form, but then subsequently issued a much expanded form which was not agreed (and which was therefore banned). Negotiations have since led the Department to issue another, agreed form.

In summary, as the Department has met the Union’s terms for our members’ participation in both CARS and PIP, the Union’s bans on both are now lifted.

Nurses 6% wage rise

The 6% wage rise for nurses – and the reaction of other unions to it – was widely reported upon in today’s radio and print media. A copy of the Daily Telegraph’s font-page story can be found immediately below this notice.

Where this might lead us will likely be decided by a meeting of public sector unions (including the FBEU) to be held shortly. It will not, however, impact upon the final 5% increase for all firefighters which is due early next year. More to follow.

Chris Read,
State Secretary
Friday 20th December, 2002

 


 

NURSES’ PAY DEAL BACKLASH

By MATTHEW DENHOLM and ANNA PATTY

20dec02

POLICE, firefighters, teachers and other public servants are threatening to lodge fresh wage claims after nurses won a landmark $120 million pay deal.

The 6 per cent “special case” rise awarded to nurses yesterday was hailed as the key to tackling the state’s nursing shortage.

But other public sector unions warned they would no longer be bound by a four-year wages peace accord with the State Government and signalled a fresh round of pay demands ahead of the election.

“It’s a new ball game,” Fire Brigade Employees’ Union state secretary Chris Read said.

The 6 per cent pay rise, which the Industrial Relations Commission awarded nurses, was on top of a 16 per cent, four-year deal covering all public service unions struck in 2000.

That deal – a memorandum of understanding (MoU) – saw public sector unions agree not to seek further wage claims except in “extraordinary circumstances”.

Yesterday, the IRC Full Bench accepted the Nurses’ Association argument that nurses’ poor pay, increased work and stress levels justified a special case pay rise.

The Full Bench awarded the further 6 per cent from January 1, when nurses will also receive 4 per cent under the MoU – giving them a 10 per cent overall increase.

The decision was far short of the 15 per cent extra sought by nurses, but the Full Bench left open the prospects of further special rises – for nurses.

It sought to head-off claims by other public servants, saying it had no evidence they were justified.

But other public sector unions, which had been closely watching the case, immediately declared that all bets were off. Public Service Association general secretary Maurie O’Sullivan declared the MoU “about as alive as Tutankhamen”.

“I’ve got 38,000 members covered by that agreement and they will be . . . angry,” Mr O’Sullivan said. “We can all make special cases – we want the . . . same deal.”

Maree O’Halloran of the NSW Teachers Federation said the Government could no longer ignore teachers’ claims for an extra five per cent from January 1, followed by an extra 10 per cent a year for two years.

“As far as the political timing of this decision goes, it could not be better, coming before an election,” she said. “The Government won’t be able to ignore this issue now.”

Police Association secretary Peter Remfrey was seeking advice from lawyers and the Labor Council on a special wage case for police.

“Members would demand we explore that avenue,” he said. “It confirms our long held view police should be treated separately.”

Mr Read said the Fire Brigade Employees Union would seek talks on a new pay deal.

“The ground on which the current wage framework was based has shifted,” Mr Read said.

But Treasurer Michael Egan warned the Government would not give in to pre-election wage demands.

“There is no scope for wild spending promises in the coming election,” he said.

The nurses’ extra 6 per cent alone would slash $120 million a year more than expected from the budget – but the Government would not appeal the decision.

University of NSW Professor of Medicine John Dwyer said the nurse shortage was the single biggest problem facing the state’s public health system.

“Nurses are absolutely pivotal to the running of our public hospital system,” he said. “The nurse shortage is the limiting factor in opening sufficient beds to meet demand,” he said.

Emergency doctors around the state have blamed a shortage of beds in use for increasing the pressure on congested emergency departments. It has led departments to turn away ambulances other than those carrying patients with life-threatening conditions.

Nurses Association general secretary Brett Holmes said the increase was an important first step in recognising the value of nurses.

“It should send a message to the nurses working in the public health system that there is increasing value being placed on nursing,” he said.

“Further increases are still possible from the case and it also should send a message to nurses who are not currently working in the profession that . . . it is worth looking at the profession again.”

 

A CLEVER DEAL STARTS TO UNRAVEL

 

COMMENT By MATTHEW DENHOLM

THE Carr Government thought it was on to a winner when it wrapped all public servants into one pay deal more than two years ago.

Teachers, police, nurses, firefighters and other public servants got a 16 per cent pay rise over four years.

In return, the Government got Budget certainty and avoided a series of messy pay battles with multiple unions.

Better still, the deal was not due to expire until mid-2004, or later in some cases, defusing public service pay as an issue for the 2003 state election. Or so it thought.

Yesterday, that strategy was, to quote one colourful union leader, “about as alive as Tutankhamen”.

Labor now finds itself facing a series of pre-election pay demands from public servants, all waving a copy of yesterday’s decision giving nurses an extra 6 per cent pay rise.

What went wrong? The memorandum of understanding (MoU) the Nurses Association and other unions signed in 2000 guaranteed the 16 per cent on the condition it would be only the general wage rise during the life of the deal.

But the fine print included an exception for cases in which sticking to the deal would be unreasonable, or where there were extraordinary circumstances.

Nurses argued they were such a case because their pay rates had fallen behind other professionals and because of the chronic shortage of nurses.

Yesterday, the Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission agreed a “unique mix of circumstances” justified a special wage case for nurses. This included strain caused by the nursing shortage, low pay levels and increased work demands.

Commissioners tried to keep the floodgates shut by insisting it was not a green light for special cases for other public servants.

Nurses deserve their pay rise. But they are not the only ones with “special” arguments. Emergency service workers are now in the frontline of the war against terror and teachers face their own problems with class sizes and skills shortages.

One union leader summed up the mood: “We’re all bloody special.”