March 2, 2012

In this issue:

  • Meals and refreshment allowances attacked again
  • Leave to appeal against LSV dispute orders denied
  • Incident ground health monitoring update

Meal and Refreshment Allowances Attacked Again

The Department this week announced that incident Meal and Refreshment Allowances will be taxed from 16 March 2012. There was absolutely no consultation with your Union prior to this announcement, only a brief meeting where they tabled their advice and flatly rejected our request that publication of the Commissioner’s notice be delayed for 24 hours to allow us to consider it and respond.

Management says it has taken this step following advice from their tax consultants. They also received advice from the ATO which they are refusing to share this with us. We are now seeking our own advice on this, including management’s attempt to have it both ways by contending that while the meal and refreshment allowances are now taxable, they are not superable.

There is every reason to think that the Department got the advice it wanted. Our Meal and Refreshment Allowances have been under attack for some time now, most recently as reported in SITREP No. 6/2012. Having not got their way with cutting back on the entitlement, we now find that the Department has apparently no choice but to slash it through taxing it. Co-incidence?

Perhaps the hope is that by slashing the take home value of the allowances we will simply stop applying for them. If this is the case it demonstrates yet again that the blow-in HR types simply do not understand firefighters, who will no doubt now make doubly sure that we claim our entitlement at each and every opportunity, thereby in all likelihood actually raising, rather than lowering, the Department’s costs.

Members should be quite clear –

  • ‘Refreshments’, in the terms of the Award, include tea, coffee and biscuits;
  • A ‘substantial meal’, in the terms of the Award, means a meal similar in standard to that provided by domestic airlines to inflight passengers travelling interstate economy class;
  • If the former is not provided at an incident after two hours (or outside of most metro Zones, three hours), members are to apply for and be paid a refreshment allowance, and if the latter is not provided at an incident after four hours, members are to apply for and be paid a meal allowance.

 

Leave to appeal against LSV dispute orders denied

The Union’s application for leave to appeal against the dispute orders made during the LSV/injured firefighter sackings dispute of October 2011 was quickly dismissed last Monday 27 February by a Full Bench of the IRC, despite the bans being imposed after the employer unilaterally walked away from our LSV staffing agreement.

The fact that the employer finally agreed to observe our agreement the day after the dispute orders were made, and with the bans still in place, did not sway the IRC. The Department will now press on with its claim for penalties (see SITREP 42/2011), including a fine of up to $10,000.

It will be instructive to see what penalty Commissioner Mullins seeks to have imposed against FBEU members when we return to the Commission. As we reported last week, next Tuesday the O’Farrell Government is presenting legislation to the NSW Parliament that will increase maximum fines for breaking Orders of the IRC to $220,000.

  

Incident Ground Health Monitoring update 

In SITREP 18/2010 the Union banned mandatory Incident Ground Health Monitoring (IGHM) and advised members against participating in any such monitoring. We gave this advice for numerous reasons, not least because IGHM is ill conceived and invades members’ privacy without delivering real benefits for members’ health and safety.

IGHM does nothing more than randomly select members at a limited number of incidents and subjects those members to a fitness for duty test in order to return to work. It is random health and fitness testing on the cheap, nothing more and nothing less. Also of concern is the position it places Inspectors, Station Officers and Captains in. Whilst IGHM is automatic for third alarms, its use is at the discretion of the IC at other times. What happens when there is a sudden incapacity on a fire ground where IGHM was not requested? Does any officer want to be in this position? The only solution is for IGHM to be requested at every incident, no matter how small, but you won’t find this in Standing Orders.

There is an alternative – a confidential Health and Wellness Program that allows all members to improve their health and well being, whilst staying in control of their own health outcomes. This is the Union preferred alternative in continuing negotiations with the Department with the assistance of the Industrial Relations Commission.

In the interim IGHM is not banned. We simply draw members’ attention to the Department’s own In Order, which permits members to decline to be tested, and repeat our advice in SITREP 18/2010 that “members may (and we advise should) refuse to undergo IGHM and to contact the Union immediately if directed to do so”.

 

Thin Blue Line getting thinner 

Cut backs through the NSW Public Sector continue, with word today that the NSW Police Force is proposing to cut 150 senior police officer positions.

While the FBEU will offer whatever support we can to the Police Association as they deal with this latest attack, the point needs to be made that if this is how the O’Farrell Government is treating their police it does not bode well for the rest of us. It is a sign of the arrogance of this government that they are gutting the same police they will be relying upon to keep the rest of us in line as we resist the job cuts and attacks on wages and conditions now facing the rest of the public sector.

You would hope that after the disembowelling of the Police D&D, the Public Sector Wages Policy, and now these job cuts that the Public Order and Riot Squad may not be quite as reliable next time we march on NSW parliament.

 

 

Jim Casey

State Secretary                                                                                                           Friday 2 March 2012