An Open Letter To All Leading Firefighter FBEU Members
December 16, 1997
Re: Station Officers’ (Post) Promotion List
You are likely now aware that the Union’s AGM held December 5 carried the following resolution:
“That this meeting believes that successful Station Officers’ Examination candidates should, in accordance with Clause 13.9.2 of the Award, be listed for promotion in such order that a candidate with 1 post could not be overtaken on the merit list by a candidate with either 2 or 3 posts, and that a candidate with 2 posts could not be overtaken by a candidate with 3 posts. Further, this meeting condemns the Department for its failure to rectify the inequitable method of determining merit for the SO’s post exam, despite several earlier approaches from the Union to do so. Accordingly, this meeting authorises the Union to take steps to overturn the Department’s merit mechanism in favour of the Union’s proposal, which if successful, will result in a new merit list being published.”
Due to the Union’s registered rules, this resolution is now binding policy on all members and officials.
However, the Union office has received several letters and telephone calls from members who are extremely dissatisfied with this development. On the surface it could be argued that it’s simply their bad luck because they failed to turn up to the meeting to put their case. On the other hand, there were certain factors (the most significant being the recent industrial dispute) which prevented the AGM agenda being distributed earlier. As it happened, it was faxed to all member-workplaces on the evening of Tuesday 2nd which theoretically allowed A, B, and C platoon members advance notice – provided of course that the fax was placed on the station’s notice board. I personally believe there is merit to be found in both arguments
In presenting this resolution to the meetings (which included the Illawarra and Newcastle Sub-Branches), I stressed that the matter was ultimately one of fairness and equity. Either the present system is correct, or the system proposed in the resolution should apply. In either case, one was always the best and fairest system – before or after the publication of any In Orders or the merit list. Purely on a matter of principle (and without having a personal stake in the matter), I suggested that if the meeting considered the proposed system to be fairer then
the resolution should be supported. That is to say, the principle – not self-interest – should govern the vote. Frankly I am not overly confident that this has been the case, on either side of the equation, in the debate to date.
In all, 96 members attended and voted on the resolution, although I suspect very few were affected by the outcome of this decision (ie they were not LF members with posts). I actually know of one member who abstained from the vote at the Sydney meeting because he was directly affected by having only one post. Regardless of all of this, the fact remains that the resolution is binding on all members and I, as the Union’s State Secretary, am now required to carry out the wishes of the rank and file as expressed in that resolution.
Accordingly, the Union will now pursue this rank and file decision before an independent body – the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC). Should the IRC accept the Union’s proposal, there will be a new list. Should the IRC reject the Union’s proposal, the status-quo shall remain and the Union shall not take the matter any further. However, the Union’s policy – and the principle – on this matter will remain “on the books” as our preferred position for any future examination.
In-Orders 1996/22 was silent on the merit listing for post candidates, other than that they would (obviously) follow those who passed at their first attempt. Whilst In-Orders 1997/10 was discussed prior to publication, neither the Union’s officials nor the Department identified the issue at the time. However, from the time the question was first raised by rank and file members (certainly prior to the October examination), the Union’s officials have approached the issue on the basis of fairness and equity, ie the system is either right or wrong – and always has been.
The IRC will consider all submissions – and the question of fairness for both affected groups – before making a final determination. I will happily abide by the independent determination of the IRC and would expect all members to do likewise, whatever that determination might be. I would maintain that the preservation of the unity of the rank and file of this Union is far more important to each and every one of us than this examination. I hope you will all agree.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that it was the Union who defeated the Department to win post examinations in the first place. It is therefore my firm belief that NO member with posts (be it 1 or 3) can honestly cry foul – whatever the outcome.
But all of this is ultimately incidental to the real issue at stake – “merit based” promotion. It’s an ugly world of dog eat dog and every man for himself. Of course it was the Department, not the firies, which fought to kill the seniority system. Now you know why! Stay united.
16 December 1997
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