May 13, 2011

Inside this issue:

  • O’Farrell attacks workplace safety…
  • …and public sector wages
  • Union seeks increase in LSL quotas
  • Transfers and qualifications update
  • Welfare concerns, or AMP by stealth?
  • Permanent service numbers sorted

O’Farrell attacks workplace safety …

The spat between IRC President Boland and the O’Farrell Government about removing OH&S prosecutions from the IRC’s jurisdiction received a fair a bit of press this last week, but largely overlooked was the O’Farrell Government’s OH&S Bill, which is now before Parliament. This Bill brings NSW into line with the “harmonized” (and greatly inferior – see SITREP 42/2010 NSW Government sees the OHS light”) national OH&S laws to apply from 1 January 2012, although the provisions will commence as soon as the Bill passes the Upper House.

The bottom line is that NSW workers, including firefighters, will suffer, with the O’Farrell’s new law:

  • replacing the current absolute liability of employers to provide a safe workplace with a new, much weaker “as far as reasonably practicable” test;
  • removing the ability of unions to prosecute employers for OH&S breaches; and
  • reversing the onus of proof on employers to prove they have provided a safe workplace.

All NSW workplaces will be less safe if and when this Bill passes into law. More to follow.

… and public sector wages

In a surprise move, the full ramifications of which are still being examined, the O’Farrell Government yesterday announced its new public sector wages policy.

The policy reaffirms Labor’s 2.5% per annum, with up to 4% achievable through employee-funded cost offsets, however the O’Farrell Government will not pay increases until those offsets are actually achieved. The Government is claiming that since 2007, public sector annual wage increases “averaged 4%, but only 54% of the promised savings offsets have been achieved” leaving taxpayers to pay an extra $900m. The Government intends to amend the IR Act to force the IRC to abide by – and enforce – the policy.

What is already clear is that the new Awards we secured in last minute negotiations with the outgoing Keneally Government in February this year – 3% per annum wage increases, with no cost offsets or loss of any Award conditions – would not be possible under O’Farrell’s new laws.

Union seeks increase in LSL quotas

The Union is pressing the Department for another increase in permanent Long Service Leave quotas.

Currently, Standing Orders observe that a maximum of 30 permanent firefighters, 20 Station Officers and 5 Inspectors may be on Long Service Leave at any one time. There has been no increase in these quotas since 1 January 2005. Given the growth in firefighter numbers of all ranks since that time, and the Department’s oft-stated aim of providing a more family friendly workplace through greater and more flexible access to leave, it is well past time for a substantial increase in these quotas.

Members will be advised of the Department’s response.

Transfers and qualifications update

Members have sought clarification regarding the instruction issued in SITREP 14/2011 that ‘no member can be transferred if their transfer will result in them losing a qualification allowance’, specifically how it applies to voluntary transfers. This instruction does not apply in situations where the member requests the transfer or wants to accept a proposed transfer; it only applies to involuntary transfers.

The Union is still waiting for a proposal from the Department that clearly identifies how members attain certain qualifications and how transfers to and from stations where those qualifications apply, including Hazmat, Rescue and Aerials (and relieving positions for that matter).

It follows that the Union instruction of 11 April stands and that any permanent member in receipt of a qualification allowance who given notice of transfer is advised to bring this instruction to the notifying officer’s attention and, if the transfer is not immediately withdrawn, to contact the Union office immediately.

Welfare concerns, or AMP by stealth?

Further to last week’s SITREP regarding the AMP, some Duty Commanders are now being directed to complete “welfare forms” when phoning members, recording their injuries, illnesses and details of these private and confidential conversations. Documenting these sort of conversations for access by Business Managers and other Zone personnel is not only inappropriate; it is antithetical to the underlying principles of privacy, confidentiality and, importantly for operational firefighters, trust.

Members are hereby instructed that no member is to complete any such welfare forms until notified otherwise by the Union.

Permanent service numbers sorted

Over the past two years the Union has made a point of issuing new recruits with a Union number that was the service number they would have received had the Department not moved to a generic, one size fits all, six digit employee number system. We did this out of a sense of tradition. The old four digit service number system had a long history behind it, and many members (both old and new) regretted its loss. Over the past eighteen months I have been surprised by the number of new recruits who have approached me asking why they were not issued service numbers, or if they could use their Union Number as a substitute for their employee number.

I raised this matter with Commissioner Mullins and found him sympathetic on this question. Consequently I welcome his agreement to reintroduce service numbers (to be now known as “Brigade Numbers”) for permanent firefighters. This is a modest victory for our shared history and tradition.

Jim Casey
State Secretary