October 7, 2004

Inside this notice:

  • Reminder of Union bans still in force
    • Sick leave management protocol
    • Vehicle inspection check sheets
    • False Alarm Notification (FAN) forms
    • Hand-held computers
    • Permanent stand-bys
    • BRIMS
  • ICMS bans lifted
  • Exploding Wallets
  • Special case update
  • Senior firefighters short changed on promotion dates
  • Parliamentary inquiry into fire service funding
  • Stat Dec dispute update
  • Second appeal on disability discrimination decision
  • Non-Payment of Redevelopment Allowance at Gosford
  • Public stampede on occurrence books? (pt 2)
  • Recent SCOM policy decisions

Reminder of Union bans still in force

Members are reminded that despite recent appeals from your employer to ignore them, the following Union bans remain in force:

Sick Leave Management Protocol
The Sick Leave Management Protocol contained within NSWFB Standing Orders remains banned, and no Union member is to help administer or otherwise participate in that protocol until further notice.

Vehicle Inspection Check Sheets
Members are not to participate in the trial of this new reporting system until notified otherwise by the Union.

False Alarm Notification (FAN) forms
Members are not to order, complete or issue FAN forms until notified otherwise by the Union.

Hand-held Computers
Members are not to participate in or assist in the use of this equipment until notified otherwise by the Union.

Permanent stand-bys
Permanent members are reminded that stand-bys have been banned by the Union, effective 6 July 2004 and that with the exception of dedicated relievers, each and every movement from your base station to another station/location since that date is to be regarded and counted as an out-duty.

BRIMS
The Bushfire Risk Information Management System (BRIMS) remains banned, effective 6 July 2004, and is therefore not to be used or accessed by any member until further notice.

ICMS ban lifted

The Union’s ban of 25 August 2004 on the Department’s new Incident Crew Management System (ICMS) that was introduced on has been lifted, effective immediately, on the expectation that the Department will further consult over the System and its staffing requirements. Members may therefore now participate in and assist with the introduction of ICMS whilst further negotiations take place.

It’s worth noting that despite a plea from the Commissioner for the “early introduction of this vital safety initiative”, the Department’s failure to allocate adequate resources means that the implementation of ICMS will not be completed until late 2005.

Exploding wallets

On page 7835 of last Friday’s Government Gazette came the news that the NSWFB’s Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners had (together with the rest of the state’s highest paid public servants) been granted another 4% pay rise – 12 months to the day after last October’s 4.5% increase.

There were no trade offs, no cost offsets and no demands whatsoever from Government for increased productivity.

Special Case Update

The Union and Department have been involved in a number of conferences planning the Union’s forthcoming Special Case. The Industrial Relations Commission has indicated a time frame for hearings of June/July 2005, however firm dates are yet to be set.

The Department is already on notice that our current 1 year Awards will expire on 23 February (permanent) and 31 March (retained) – well before the Special Case will be heard, let alone determined . The Union expects and will continue pressing for an acceptable resolution to this looming dispute well before February .

Senior Firefighters shortchanged on promotion dates

It has come to our attention that at least one, and possibly many more members have been promoted to Senior Firefighter months after they should have been.

In this particular case, our member was promoted on the date he completed the ICS course. This was some six months after he had completed the requisite Senior Firefighter modules, which, according even to the Department’s own Standing Order, was the date that he in fcat should have been promoted.

The effects of this are twofold – firstly, our member will now receive over $1000 in back pay, and secondly, he’ll now be able to sit for the SOPP Pre Entry test a year earlier than he previously thought possible.

Members who think they are in a similar situation should contact the Union office for further advice and assistance.

Parliamentary Inquiry into Fire Service Funding

Early last month, the NSW Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee released a Report firmly rejecting the need to change the current system of fire service funding in NSW. The Premier immediately adopted the Committee’s approach and ruled out any change that would let the insurance companies avoid paying their way.

In doing so, the Government adopted the position put by this Union in its submission titled: Reframing Responsibility: the insurance industry’s attempt to “free-ride” on NSW taxpayers, which was tabled in October 2003. The Union also appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in November 2003 and gave evidence as to why the current system was both fair and appropriate. The Union’s written and oral submissions are referred to throughout the report. One extract from our paper quoted in the Report is:

“The Union will stridently resist any regressive attempt to change the current approach to fire service funding that is inequitable and/or that shifts the burden away from where it belongs – with the Insurance Industry and the State Government.”

It’s a safe bet that the Union’s very public threat of actively resisting such a change made the Government’s representatives think twice about buying the selfish insurance industry line.

Stat Dec dispute update

Further to the previous Union Notices (16 April and 23 July 2004) concerning the Statutory Declaration dispute, the IRC’s Justice Boland handed down his decision in that case on 24 September, siding with the Department in affirming that only statutory declarations made under the Oaths Act 1900 (NSW) could be submitted when claiming the Award’s personal/carer’s leave entitlement.

Congratulations to the Department for making it as hard as possible for you to access this leave to look after your sick spouse or kids. Or have they? Unfortunately for the bosses, the Union this week took steps to appeal Justice Boland’s ruling. More to follow.

Second Appeal on Disability Discrimination Decision

Not content with losing both the case and its first appeal before the Review Panel of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (see our Notice dated 22 May 2003) last November, the Department has since appealed to the Supreme Court of NSW.

The tenor of the Department’s argument at the hearing of that appeal last month seemed to be that because the decision not to promote our member took place prior to the Anti Discrimination Act coming into force, that decision couldn’t have been a contravention of that Act. They didn’t even try to argue that it wasn’t discriminatory. The fact that the decision has had continuing adverse effects on our member over the last 30 years seems to have troubled the Department’s mind not one bit.

Non-Payment of Redevelopment Allowance at Gosford

The latest experiment from the industrial relations laboratory that is Region North was refusing to pay members a redevelopment allowance at Gosford whilst they put up with months of construction work at their station. Again, the Department’s interpretation of the relevant Standing Order changed overnight – management didn’t even notify the Union that work was to commence. If the Department had its way, from here on in only projects akin to the Snowy Mountains Scheme would attract the allowance, but construction noise, dust, mess and losing or limiting your amenities would no longer be enough.

Some sense of sanity prevailed when the IRC eventually recommended that the Department should pay the redevelopment allowance to members at Gosford for a total of ten weeks – a marked improvement on the three or so day shifts that management had previously identified as warranting payment of the allowance, and a full 8 weeks up on the Department’s previously “final” offer.

It came to light during those IRC proceedings that one of the Department’s techniques in determining whether members were suffering unsatisfactory conditions was to drive by the station (ie not actually check inside). Nice one.

Public stampede on Occurrence Books? (Pt 2)

Further to our Notice of 25 August 2004, members will not be surprised to hear that nobody stepped forward to claim our prize for presenting “evidence of just one occasion when your stn’s occurrence book was ‘routinely’ accessed by the public”, as claimed by the Department in its evidence to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal ADT.

The facts of this matter are simple enough: the Department’s deliberate release of a retained member’s response (and, we argue, personal) details to that member’s primary employer led to him being sacked from his primary job. Why? Because he responded with the NSWFB whilst allegedly on sick leave from that primary employer.

For those who might think that the Department would be grateful for the member’s attendance, or that it might at the very least acknowledge that it had shafted our member and apologise to him, think again. It was barristers at 10 yards again yesterday when our attempted prosecution of the Department for breaching the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 returned to the ADT, which has since reserved its decision.

And the Department wonders why it has a growing daytime retained availability problem!?!

Recent SCOM policy decisions

Senior Firefighter to be minimum rank for retained shortages

That the Newcastle Sub-Branch recommendation of June 7 2004 concerning out-duties and stand-bys at retained stations (repeated here below):

‘That this Special Meeting of the members of the Newcastle Branch of the NSWFBEU resolves that the practice of Permanent Firefighters being detailed to perform out-duties or stand-bys at Retained Stations on their own without the support of a Station Officer in order to cover staff shortages for whatever reason is condemned as unsafe and considered to place such Firefighters at risk. Accordingly, this Special Meeting resolves that no Permanent Firefighter shall be detailed such out-duties or stand-bys and the provisions (in particular Part 3D of the NSWFBEU letter of 30th April, 1996 entitled ‘Retained Staffing In Orders 1995/20 Explained’) shall be strictly adhered to,’

be received, noted (the recommendation’s silence on the question of recalls of off-duty permanent members in particular) and rejected in favour of the following interim policy position. Having debated this matter at great length, State Committee considers that the difficulties referred to in the Sub-Branch recommendation are sufficiently complex to render a simple or ready resolution impossible. However, in addressing the stated concerns of the Newcastle Sub-Branch membership, State Committee notes that unlike more junior ranks, Senior Firefighters are now required to undertake training in ICS and further, that in June 1998, a General Meeting of the Union’s rank and file membership endorsed the use of Senior Firefighters in lieu of Station Officers in certain circumstances. Accordingly, State Committee resolves that pending the outcome of a review of the procedures and policy for retained shortages set out within both In Orders 1995/20 and the accompanying Union notice of 30 April 1996, Senior Firefighter shall be considered the minimum permanent firefighter rank capable of performing a solo out-duty, stand-by or recall at a retained station.”

Opposition to proposed changes for Recruits’ driving licence requirements

“That State Committee resolves to actively oppose the Department’s proposal to require applicants for this year’s permanent recruitment campaign to attain a Medium Rigid driver’s licence prior to their employment with the NSWFB on the basis that:

a)    such training is presently a principal role and responsibility of FBEU members employed for that purpose at Alexandria;
b)    the Department has refused to acknowledge any productivity benefits and/or potential cost savings which the proposal would deliver;
c)    the proposal would place a potentially significant additional burden, both in terms of time and money, upon future recruits (and therefore future FBEU members); and
d)    the proposal would do nothing to assist the recruitment of women, NESB and indigenous people into the Brigades.

Accordingly, the State Secretary is directed to impose such bans and limitations as he may consider necessary to defeat this proposal in the event that the Department ignores the Union’s objections and attempts to proceed with this regressive initiative.”

Dispute over Laundering of Uniform

“That the correspondence from the Department rejecting the Union’s complaints over In Order 2004/14, Laundering Uniform and dated 6 September 2004 be received and noted, and that the State Secretary therefore arrange for the Department’s prosecution given its clear breach of subclause 33.1 of the Crown Employees (NSW Fire Brigades Firefighting Staff) Award 2004 and refusal to clean various items of members’ uniform, namely light blue dress shirts, t- shirts and socks.”

Station Inventory Management System

“That the Department’s correspondence proposing a limited trial of its Station Inventory Management System dated 23 September 2004 be received and noted, and that the six month trial be allowed to proceed on the understanding that full implementation of this new system shall be strictly subject to the State Committee’s further consideration and endorsement.”

Station Security

“That State Committee opposes the use of operational members as security guards, and whilst acknowledging that members have some responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their work places, and therefore their comrades, it is clearly not their role to act as security guards and/or door attendants. In the event that station security is compromised due to mechanical failure e.g. door malfunction, Union members are only to be used to ensure security only in the short term and until such time as security personnel are made available. Such security guards and/or other arrangements are to remain in place until such time as repairs have been satisfactorily completed.”

Lismore staffing dispute

“That State Committee notes and condemns Commissioner Mullins’ repeatedly provocative and misleading statements in opposition to the Union’s campaign for additional permanent firefighters for the Lismore community.
We find the Commissioner’s attempts to create and then exploit divisions between permanent and retained members over this issue irresponsible, if disappointingly predictable.
State Committee also records its profound disappointment with Commissioner Mullins’ repeated attempts during the course of this dispute to marginalise individual Union officials and/or to drive a wedge between the State Committee and locally-based Union members.
State Committee further calls on Commissioner Mullins to cease conducting his campaign against additional staffing through the local media and to return instead to the bargaining table with the Union.
Of most concern to the State Committee, however, is the Commissioner’s alternative proposal for Lismore staffing which, despite his numerous assurances to the contrary, is a clear and direct threat to our hard-won safe minimum staffing level of four firefighters per pumper. We are frankly appalled by the Commissioner’s suggestions (some of which are repeated here below) that it may be somehow appropriate for NSWFB crews to safely handle calls to property alight with crews of less than four:

‘minor kitchen fires, or similar, could be readily handled by a crew of S/O & 1, or S/O & 2’
(Commissioner Mullins’ email to NSWFB staff, Friday 31 August 2004)

‘many of those structure fires relates to things like a pot of chips on a stove – you would have seen the TV advertisement some years ago – which could be very safely handled by that fast response crew’
(Commissioner Mullins’ evidence to the NSW Parliament’s General Purpose Standing Committee No.5, Thursday 16 September 2004)

This is no different to suggesting that any station’s crew (eg. Redfern) could safely respond with only S/O & 1 as long as they were supported by another crew of S/O & 3 (eg. Newtown), which is where this reckless proposal will inevitably lead if it is left unchallenged.
Finally, given Commissioner Mullins’ unambiguous undertaking on this matter:

Rumour: The outgoing Commissioner made a public commitment in September 2001 that Lismore Fire Station would become a permanent 24-hour-a-day operation within two years. Will Commissioner Mullins be honouring that commitment, and if so, is there a revised timetable for the 10/14 appointments?
Response: I will most certainly honour this commitment, however funding for the staff is not available during this financial year. It is hoped that Lismore will receive additional staff next financial year.
(Commish’s Corner No. 261, Friday 22 August 2003)

State Committee asks: when will this ‘most certain’ commitment be honoured?”

Jailing of former AMWU official Craig Johnston

“State Committee notes the result of the appeal in the Supreme Court against the wholly suspended sentence handed down against Craig Johnston by the County Court, arising out of actions at the premises of Johnston Tiles and Skilled Engineering in 2001.
State Committee does not condone the excesses at Johnston Tiles and Skilled Engineering. However, State Committee expresses its concern at the jailing of Craig Johnston and the excessive length of the custodial sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal. In doing so, State Committee notes the plea of guilty entered by Craig Johnston and other penalties suffered by him (including loss of capacity to hold a union position). While valuing the independence of the judiciary and the difficulties associated with making judgments about sentencing, State Committee considers a nine-month custodial sentence harsh and disproportionate given all the circumstances.
Further, the sentence for this incident, which occurred in the context of an industrial dispute, must be compared to the lack of punishment for corporate crime. For example, an employer who is responsible for the death or serious injury of a worker through either gross negligence or a flagrant breach of the OH&S Act is unlikely to be jailed (unless the employer fits a narrow test under the Crimes Act or has previously breached the OH&S Act). There are numerous other circumstances where employers injure workers or deliberately avoid obligations but pay no penalty, let alone face a custodial sentence. In this respect Craig Johnston has paid a heavy and unequal price.
State Committee also expresses its concerns for Craig and his family at this time, and commends those unions and activists who are working to ensure their well-being.”

Chris Read
State Secretary