October 26, 2003

Inside this notice:

  • Award negotations update
  • Recycled water banned
  • Briefly…

Award negotiations update

Award negotiations continue, with the major (but by no means sole) point of discussion to date being the Union’s proposal for a new, compressed permanent rank structure:

New Ranks Current Ranks
Recruit (Recruits and FL1s)
Firefighter Lvl 1 (FL2s and FL3s)
Firefighter Lvl 2 (FL4s and Qualified Firefighters)
Senior Firefighter (Senior Firefighters)
Leading Firefighter (Leading Firefighters)
Station Officer (SOL1 and SOL2)
Senior Station Officer N/A
Inspector (Inspector)
Superintendent (Superintendent and C. Sup L1)
Chief Superintendent (Chief Superintendent L2)

As discussions unfold, it appears that members would spend 12 months at the new Recruit rank and a minimum of 24 months at each rank thereafter. It would therefore take 5 years (not the current 6) to reach SF rank, 7 years to LF, 9 years to SO, 11 years to SSO and 13 years to Inspector. The Union has further suggested that progression to Supt should require a minimum of 2 years at Inspector, and 2 years at Supt before progressing to Chf Supt.

Progression to Senior Firefighter rank would become compulsory. The Department has so far rejected the Union’s position that existing QF’s should be automatically realigned at SF rank, and has instead proposed that QF’s be realigned at the new FL2 rank. They (like all FL2’s) would then be required to progress to SF rank within two years, although the Department now appears open to the idea of a distinction between pre-CBT QF’s (ie, members who reached QF prior to 1/1/96) and more recent QF’s, with the former having to complete a short (yet to be determined) “bridging course” in recognition of their extended service.

Like the new SSO rank, Leading Firefighter would cease to be simply a transitional rank. In other words, it would be possible to progress to LF without having to go on to SO. Similarly, it would be possible for SO’s to gain promotion to SSO rank without having to go on to Inspector. Further (and quite importantly), the Union has insisted that there be no cap on the total numbers in either the LF or SSO rank. The benefits from this for all members, and for those based outside of the GSA in particular, should be obvious.

In the context of the above changes, the Department is seeking agreement for LF’s to act-up to fill SO vacancies, and for SSO’s to act-up to Inspector rank. It’s expected that there will, however, be no reduction in the current number of relieving SO’s or Inspectors. The Department is further proposing that acting-up be permitted for periods of up to one month in order to remove the need for country reliefs, etc.

Unlike officer relievers, the Department has proposed to abolish the firefighters’ relieving corps altogether. The upside of this is that its also proposing to create over 100 extra firefighter positions which, when combined with the former RF’s, would see every station brought up to S/O and 4 (or more, as need be, for multiple appliance stations). It’s expected that the combination of this in-built relief component and (limited) out-duties would allow most vacancies, both scheduled (eg, annuals) and otherwise (eg, sick leave) to be covered.

Under this proposal, today’s Senior Firefighter will effectively become tomorrow’s QF – but at the higher rate of pay. Similarly, today’s Leading Firefighter becomes tomorrow’s SF and today’s SO2 gains a further opportunity of promotion to SSO – in both cases again with considerably higher rates of pay. This offers more career opportunities and much greater earning potential for members, as well as higher levels of skills and training for the Brigades. That we also stand to secure over 100 new permanent firefighter jobs is the icing on the cake.

However – and there’s no point in skirting around the point – the ability of LF’s and SSO’s to act-up coupled with the creation of the extra firefighter positions would mean that recalls to maintain minimum staffing would largely become a thing of the past. It’s worth noting here that the State Committee does not support or encourage overtime as a way of boosting your regular pay. Our Union certainly didn’t fight for years on end to get our weekly working hours down from 168 to today’s 42 so that members could work more overtime on their extra days off. In our view, overtime is simply a symptom of a shortage of substantive jobs, and as such the Union welcomes the prospect of 100+ new permanent positions.

Like most things, the devil of all this (if there is one) will be found in the detail. Much of that detail is yet to be worked out – not the least being what will be required of existing SF and SO members in order to progress to the new LF and SSO ranks – but that and further details will be circulated as and when they come to hand. As always, the final say on these or any other changes will rest with you, the Union’s rank and file members, at a General Meeting.

Recycled water banned

Following repeated concerns from rank and file members, the State Committee has resolved to ban the use by FBEU members of recycled water (ie, effluent) in both firefighting and drill situations. Only to protect life – and then only as a last resort – should members even consider using water from these recycled reticulation systems.

Hydrants carrying this recycled water (which, frankly, is exactly what is sounds like) are identified by their purple hydrant covers, and to our knowledge can only be found (for now at least) at Rouse Hill and Olympic Park.

The Union’s ban will remain in place until such time as we can be assured that there will be no increased risk to firefighters, other members of the community or the environment in using recycled water for firefighting when compared to the present usage of reticulated potable (drinking quality) water. Further, we’ll also expect the use of this recycled water for firefighting to be aligned with other permissable uses. In other words, if Sydney Water continues to advise the broader community that they shouldn’t bathe, swim in or shower with this recycled water, then neither they nor the Department have any reason to expect that this Union’s members will be OK with the idea of firefighting with it.

Briefly

  • Copies of the Union’s submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiries into Fire Service Funding and the Transport of Nuclear Waste can now be downloaded from our website.
  • The Union has commenced negotiations with the Department following its recent, unilateral changes to promotional arrangements to SF and LF rank.
  • Following Union representations over the delayed implementation of salary packaging for interested members, alternate arrangements are now being made to by-pass the problems associated with the Stargarden payroll system. Consequently, salary packaging should be available from mid-November, with seminars being held for interested members around that time. Details of the dates and venues for these seminars will be distributed by the providers, MacMillan Shakespeare, within the coming weeks.
  • The Department this week signalled its intention to remove 13’s aerial and crews. In return, the Union signalled industrial action if it attempts to do so.

Stay United!

Chris Read

State Secretary