The Permanent Firefighter’s Award formally expired on 8 August 1996. The Award continues in its current form until it is replaced by another Award either by consent of the parties or by an arbitrated decision of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.
In order to protect member’s interests in the negotiation processes, in July the Union demanded and subsequently received a written commitment from the Department that it will backdate wage increases arising from the new Award to the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 8 August 1996. This commitment is conditional on the Award being made by consent of the parties, ie that is does not go to the Industrial Relations Commission for arbitration. A similar arrangement is expected to be made for the retained Award in due course.
Negotiations between the Department and the Union for a new Award for permanent firefighters formally commenced on 12 August. Those preliminary discussions canvassed the Union’s claim for a two year Award with a 12% increase in salaries and allowances for all classifications as well as various changes and improvements in conditions of employment identified by the Union’s elected officials. Further meetings were held on 14 and 16 August, in order to establish the framework for the negotiations and identify the areas of agreement and disagreement between the parties.
The Department’s proposals for a new Award can be summarised as follows:
A three year Award with increases of 3%+3%+3% over three years;
Rationalise existing allowances;
Abolish the Relieving corps with the relieving allowance only paid when a firefighter is working away from the base station. Retained FF’s to be permitted to relieve permanent FF’s for short periods;
Implementation of Competency Based Training;
Introduction of Merit Based Promotion;
Implementation of a Personal Development System;
Remove all restrictions on Acting-Up;
Discontinue payment of 10/14 roster overtime when any form of leave is taken;
Reduce sick leave entitlements from 144 hours to 120 hours per year and allow full accumulation;
Decommission all permanently crewed water tankers and redeploy staff in other activities;
Critical examination of all non-operational positions. Any firefighting position which does not need the occupant to be a firefighter, to be civilianised;
Abolish rental subsidies and create an allowance for being on call ( country Station Officers )
Focus and broaden the activities of firefighters
Reading the above wish-list, members could be excused for thinking that the Department believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy!!! The Union has already rejected outright the bulk of the Department’s proposals and has submitted its own Award claim for the Department’s response, although none has been forthcoming at the time of writing.
Whilst the retrospectivity agreement has taken much of the urgency, and friction, out of the negotiations, the Union remains determined to settle the current wage round in the shortest possible time. Members shall be kept advised of developments through notices, delegate meetings and General Meetings as appropriate and/or necessary.