March 9, 2012

In this issue:

  • Wage rise in this week’s pay
  • Meal and Refreshment Allowances update
  • Twilight Zones
  • Business managers out of control
  • O’Farrell’s war on workers – update

Wage rise in this week’s pay 

The second wage increase for all permanent and retained members under the 2011 Awards took effect on 24 February and appeared in all members’ pays this week. As an indication of the benefit for permanent members, this resulted in fortnightly wage increases of $50.89 for Recruits, $68.22 for Senior Firefighters, $81.98 for Level 2 Station Officers and $98.38 for Inspectors.

These increases follow the first increase in June 2011 and the special, one-off lump sum payments that were made to all members on 24 March last year. Most allowances also increased on 24 February including the relieving kilometre allowance (up from $1.08 to $1.10 per km), the relieving allowance (up from $28.85 to $29.58) and all qualification allowances.

Adjustments in meal, refreshment and travelling compensation allowances take effect on 1 July of each year. As occurs every year, the Union will advise all members by way of notice as soon as these new rates are confirmed.

Members are reminded that the 2011 Awards we secured in March last year – and therefore these wage increases – would not now be permitted under O’Farrell’s public sector IR laws.

Meal and Refreshment Allowances Update

Last week I reported on the Department’s announcement that incident Meal and Refreshment Allowances will be taxed from 16 March 2012, following a brief “we’re telling you” meeting and absolutely no meaningful consultation from them.

This week the Union learnt that the Department emailed ‘Petty Cash Custodians’ to state that no Meal and Refreshment Allowances are to be paid out of petty cash effective 16 March 2012.  Instead, the Department says, they must be claimed via the Employee Self Service Portal.

This contravenes both the Permanent and Retained Awards, which clearly states that payments of these allowances are to be made by the Officer-in-Charge prior to or at the cessation of the shift or overtime, or at the earliest opportunity thereafter.  This is for a very good reason – the allowances are for a meal or refreshment when the Department has failed to provide the appropriate sustenance required, and the cash payment allows the firefighter to immediately purchase food and drink.

I have written to the Department asking for confirmation that it will continue to comply with the Award in this respect after 16 March.  Rather than provide this assurance the Department chose to notify the Industrial Relations Commission of a dispute on the matter.  At a hearing this afternoon, the Union argued that while these allowances may be taxable, they should continue to be paid through petty cash and, furthermore, that they are also superable.

So after having initially refusing to discuss the matter at all, the Department is now required to meet with the Union on the matter early next week, and the parties then are to report back to the Commission before next Friday, 16 March 2012.  More to follow.

Twilight Zones

The Union has received a number of complaints from members that over-zealous zone managers are refusing to allow them to perform country relief or take up higher duties because the member’s absence in the zone will generate overtime and adversely impact on the zone’s budget.

Members are advised that, zone budgets not withstanding, if they are selected to perform such reliefs or higher duties then they should be released to perform them. Indeed in the case of higher duties, not releasing the member to perform such higher duties is in breach of the Award.

The Union raised this at a Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) meeting and Department representatives agreed that this should not occur. If any member is told by zone management that they are not allowed to perform a relief or higher duties position they should contact the Union immediately. 

Business managers out of control

The Union has also been advised that Business Managers at the zone level are interfering with members’ transfers. This includes trying to prevent the transfer of members into their zones where that member has a record of accessing sick leave. In essence this is using transfers as a disciplinary tool – a practice with a long and sordid history in FRNSW. This matter was also raised at the JCC and again senior management not only agreed that this should not occur, but recognised that this response was a shortsighted attempt to put zone budgets ahead of both firefighter welfare, and the needs of FRNSW as a whole. If any member is told that their transfer has been declined on the basis of their sick leave record they are to contact the Union immediately.

O’Farrell’s war on workers  – update

This week public sector unions met with the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and on the agenda was the O’Farrell Government’s “NSW Commission of Audit” released two weeks ago (see SITREP 8/2012). When asked if the Government or the respective departments would be consulting with unions about adopting or rejecting the report’s recommendations the answer was a flat no. All decisions are to be made within government and consultation (if you can call it that) will occur post that decision. Further, the Government would not even say when it was going to make these decisions; just that it would and we would find out once it was done. What more can you expect from a government that didn’t even ask its workforce what it thought the major issues facing the public sector were? Being kept in the dark, ignored and held in contempt – that’s life for public sector workers under this government. Nobody voted for that.

Jim Casey
State Secretary