February 11, 1998

The Commissioner has released a circular entitled “OVERTIME” dated February 6, 1998. In this circular, Mr MacDougall laments the growing occurrence of overtime, and the additional cost associated with same.

The Union does not, at this stage, wish to take issue with the figures which have been provided in the circular. Rather, I write simply to make some observations in balance, and to raise a few questions of my own. Firstly, the Department’s reckoning for “sick leave” includes a lot more than just standard sick leave. It also frequently includes absences due to workers’ compensation injuries, and all personal carer’s leave. These are only two examples. Recent improvements in your Award conditions such as personal carer’s leave will obviously impact on overtime – but it doesn’t mean that it’s your fault!

Secondly, there has been a significant increase in staff (and several new 10/14 Stations) without a corresponding increase in the number of relieving firefighters/officers – leading to more overtime. Thirdly, other OH&S initiatives such as In Orders 1995/20 (providing for permanent recalls where no retained staff are available) will obviously have an impact on overtime. Fourthly, industrial disputes which were provoked by the Department (eg taxation, and fitness) have led to relieving bans and overtime. Even unsafe workplaces, equipment and practices contribute to “the problem”.

There are more, but I think the jury should stay out on whether or not “the trend is clear!” I personally would be surprised if actual sick leave had increased at all in recent years. Perhaps the Union could comment with more authority if we were included – or even briefed on – the “Executive Overtime Committee”? It’s truly unfortunate that as the elected representative of you – the sickly employees – I have only just become aware of the existence of this group. Remember the dreaded “Sick Leave Protocol”, which caused more sick leave than it prevented? I’m not holding my breath for the new “Action Plan”!

I shall close with these three points. 1. The Union does not condone the abuse of sick leave. 2. The Union does not believe that scaring the workforce with “the spectre of privatisation” helps one iota; and 3. Unlike the Department, the Union remains more than happy to discuss any REAL problems which might exist.

Chris Read

State Secretary

11th February, 1998