Instruction to all members: O2BA & FITNESS ASSESSMENTS BANNED
February 5, 1996
At it’s meeting of 30th January, 1996 the Union’s State Committee of Management considered the question of firefighter voluntary physical fitness assessments and the more specific question of revised medical assessments for O2BA (BG174) qualified operators.
The Union is obviously supportive of improved fitness levels for it’s members in the interest of health and safety, however the matter of fitness testing is a complex and sensitive industrial issue. The Department is seeking to establish a fitness level “benchmark” via the holding of voluntary fitness assessments – as promulgated in In-Orders 1995/23 and advised in the January Fire News. Against this move is the Union’s concerns over developments in Victoria, where the employer has had the Victorian Branch before the Industrial Relations Commission in an attempt to impose a punitive and strenuous compulsory fitness assessment of Melbourne firefighters. If firefighters fail, they are to be dismissed with access to only their own superannuation contributions. A fit 40 year old would be doing well to pass the MFB assessments.
The Department has insisted that it seeks to avoid the Melbourne model, that it wishes to establish a “reasonable” fitness benchmark, and that it won’t be compulsory – at least to start with. The Department aims to introduce a compulsory assessment within five years, however despite continual Union demands it has been unable to answer the vital question – what happens to those firefighters who continually fail their assessment? Surely this can’t be an unreasonable question, but the Department can’t provide a reasonable answer – or any answer for that matter.
Further to the Union’s concerns is the fact that no member commencing employment from 1994 onwards has access to a break-down benefit through his/her superannuation, meaning the Department will be able to “boot” all those firefighters who are no longer fit for firefighting duties at no cost whatsoever. The reason so many members remain on permanent light duties at present (many of whom wish to be “supered out”) is that the Department has considerable cost attached to each in employer contributions on exit through the “old” state superannuation scheme. Put simply, the Union will not entertain any
compulsory fitness assessment of it’s members before the superannuation
question is addressed through a superior scheme for all members, and one that provides for a break-down benefit.
One of the Commissioner’s favourite themes over the last 18 months has been to speak of the need for greater turnover in the firefighting workforce. Presently the operational Brigades have a 3% annual turnover, but Commissioner MacDougall believes this needs to reach 11% in order to achieve a smooth-flowing hierarchical promotion system. This is where the delays in promotion to Station Officer arise, but the Commissioner has an answer. He believes if more training of a general and/or “management” nature was provided to firefighting staff, then firefighters could “move on” after “20 or so years of jumping into burning buildings” (his words, not mine). The Department has enough difficulty providing adequate firefighting training let alone anything else, and the cost in both dollar and logistical terms to implement this broad training would be immense. So how to achieve the 11% turnover? Fitness assessments are far easier and far cheaper, delivering tidy reductions in the Department’s worker’s compensation insurance premiums into the bargain, or so the theory goes.
The resolution of the State Committee of Management reads as follows;
“That all members be banned from participation in fitness assessments and O2BA medical assessments, until such time as the Union is satisfied with both the content and objectives of such assessments.”
With regard to revised O2BA (BG 174) medical assessments, the new regime proposed by the Department has many problems which primarily focus on the establishment of unrealistic levels. Minor problems exist with aspects of the FRAB2 assessment which the Union is now to have independently assessed, however again the major concern of the Union lies with the Department’s underlying motives. The payment of O2BA qualification allowances costs the Department close to $1 million per annum. The Department’s first attempt to cull operator numbers came with the establishment of O2BA stations and the ensuing transfers, causing many members to relinquish their qualification rather than be shifted. Now it seems it wants to cull again. The Union is willing to discuss the future of the BG 174 within the service, which may be due for replacement by new technology long-duration BA, however it will not accept the reduction of allowance expenditure through the medical assessment back door.
ACCORDINGLY, ALL MEMBERS ARE INSTRUCTED NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN VOLUNTARY FITNESS ASSESSMENTS, OR UNDERGO ANY MEDICAL ASSESSMENT ASSOCIATED WITH THE O2BA QUALIFICATION.
THIS INSTRUCTION IS TO REMAIN IN PLACE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
The Union shall continue negotiations with the Department on these matters, and members shall be advised of developments as they occur. Members seeking clarification of this instruction should contact the Union office or their elected official in the first instance.
5th February, 1996