November 10, 1997

The Commissioner NSWFB today issued a deliberately misleading notice under the heading “DUTY OF CARE”. Frankly, that notice is as wrong as it is offensive.

The facts surrounding the actual member at the centre of this dispute are:

  • the issue is not a medical issue, but one of fitness assessment;
  • the Department is alleging that the member concerned is overweight, and further, that this is a “medical condition”;
  • the Department is placing the member on the sick-list, despite a certificate from the member’s doctor that he is fit to return to work;
  • despite the Department stating that it is a medical rather than a fitness condition, the Department is also stating that if the member successfully undertakes either the FRAB2 or the “bike ride” test, he can return to work;
  • neither the FRAB2 nor the bike test are medical tests, they are fitness tests;
  • as any success in either the FRAB2 or bike test would have no bearing on the member’s weight, the question is very clearly one of alleged “fitness”.

In a wider sense, the issues at stake are these:

  • whilst the member is a retained firefighter, it is obvious that the issue is Union wide and could just as easily affect a permanent member;
  • there has never been any post-employment fitness assessment of members, with the closest previous example being the S/O’s promotional medicals which were defeated by the Union on the grounds of discrimination;
  • if the Department succeeds, any member returning from a workers’ compensation injury could be cleared of the injury, but nonetheless ruled to be “unfit” for a variety of reasons – which might include excess weight, hearing or eyesight etc.;
  • the number of light-duties positions within the Brigades are rapidly disappearing. If the Department succeeds, it would not need to find any light duties positions for anyone other than those injured on workers’ compensation. Any other member deemed to be “unfit” could simply be allowed to rot on sick-leave, at no cost to the Department.
  • again, if the Department succeeds, any member seeking to return to full duties could be deemed by the BMO to be unfit, and could be placed on sick leave – indefintely.

Once again, this dispute has been caused by the Department changing a long standing status-quo, without consultation or agreement with the Union. The Union is willing to discuss fitness assessments for firefighters – but only after they tell us what will happen to those who might fail. We’ve been waiting nearly 2 years for that answer. This dispute IS about fitness assessments, it IS about job-security and fundamentally, it IS about the disgraceful state of your superannuation and protection for injured or otherwise unfit members. If you joined after 1985, you’re job is now at risk.

Retained members have now joined the industrial action, which will almost certainly escalate again in the immediate future. Quite simply, the Union will not back down on this issue – it cannot afford to. The Commissioner’s woeful misinformation doesn’t help.

Chris Read,

State Secretary Monday 10th November, 1997



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