StarGarden Pay Dispute – The FACTS

April 11, 1997

One of the most elementary and fundamental principles of industrial relations is that employers should pay their employees correctly and on time and provide their employees with sufficient records so that employees can be satisfied that they have been paid correctly and in full.

The recent experience has been that members simply cannot be satisfied that they have been paid correctly. The deduction of unsubstantiated overpayments, in clear breach of the Award, and unclarified underpayment adjustments has only served to exacerbate this problem.

Under threat of escalated direct rank and file action, the Department has agreed to the Unions proposal to remedy some of the worst aspects of the Department’s technological and administrative malaise.

Accordingly, the paperwork bans imposed via the Union notice dated 26 March, 1997 are lifted.  If the Department breach this agreement or the Award in future pay-periods, the Union will consider the re-imposition of escalated bans.

Attached is a copy of the agreement. The agreement details some practical ways to address members concerns. In addition, the agreement should deliver some respite to members who are experiencing financial hardship due to overpayment recovery. These members are advised to make application to the Department to reduce or cease overpayment recovery, if necessary until such time as the ‘back-tax’ recovery has concluded.

In the past few days members may have received at their home address two letters signed by the Commissioner that attempt to provide some explanation for the recent pay debacle. The first letter (dated 3 April) was brought about by the Union’s insistence that the Department, as a matter of urgency, issue correspondence to every member explaining that their pay had been adversely affected by the failure of the payroll system.

Curiously, this course of action had not previously been contemplated by the Department despite recent experience financing several glossy mail-outs heralding the arrival of the much vaunted StarGarden. Further to that the Union’s State Committee of Management and the Department’s representatives agreed that the correspondence would be presented to the Union for comment and alterations prior to it being sent out. This did not occur and the letter was sent out without Union involvement – and in clear breach of the agreement.

The letter contains what can only be described as a feeble excuse for an apology, the closest approximation for such being; “Clearly, the events of recent days justify criticism”!

The most recent letter (dated 9 April) represents an even more serious breach of faith where the Commissioner’s letter appears to align the Union’s State Committee of Management with the Department’s own failure to pay members appropriately, and on time. Contained within the second letter is the admission by the Department that it did not notify the Union that it’s payroll system had again failed until the day prior to members actual pay day. During the course of the meeting referred to by the Department, Michael Peters, Director Resources and Leigh Bray, Manager Industrial Relations conceded that they were aware, perhaps the previous Friday, that members would again not receive their correct pay.

The conclusion that the Department effectively went to ground, refusing to inform the Union, or any of it’s employees of their stuff up until the day before it hit the fan is a telling factor in this whole debacle. The fact that the Department attempts to explain away their repeated failure to properly pay their employees by revealing to staff they had consulted with the Union (but had taken no notice of the Union’s position) is a gem indeed. Perhaps the Department believes it can be absolved from the responsibility of informing employees of such a significant error by trotting down to the Union office at 5 minutes to midnight and admitting that 3000 people will not be paid in accordance with the award-yet again!. The letter also stated that the recovery of overpayments was “in accordance with award conditions”. There are clear reasons why it is not-and the Union has quickly told them so.

Despite claiming that the failure to allow the Union to view the first letter was an ‘oversight’, this last letter was again dispatched without the Union’s knowledge. Still, under Union pressure the Department appears to have come to the belated realisation that it could be its responsibility to communicate its mistakes to its employees. The role the Union played was to ensure that members knew about the problem and demanded that the Department ensure the same. The Union did not, of course, cause members pays to be bungled.

With firefighters’ pay (and this Union’s positive effect on it) being a sensitive issue with the Department, perhaps we should not really be surprised by such letters.

Chris Read

State Secretary

11th April, 1997



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