For several years now, the Department has sought to remove the Drager BG 174 O2BA sets from service. Not because they weren’t needed, not because of concerns for employee safety, not because spare parts were no longer available and not because of new technology. Why? Simply because the O2BA allowance found at Award Clause 6.6.5 costs the employer $800 000 each year.
The Union was contacted by the Department early March ’98 seeking a meeting to discuss the future of O2BA. At the first meeting held March 31, the Union learnt that all of the 76 BG 174 sets are now due for their five-years service (at an approximate cost of $1000 per set), but that the Department was not going to pay the $70 000 or so involved because the sets were suddenly deemed to be “dangerous because they’re negative pressure”. We also learnt of further sudden problems – like spare parts will not being available within 2 years, etc., etc.
This may or may not be true, but the question needs to be asked: How did something as obvious as a scheduled 5 year maintenance program (which would have already been budgeted for) suddenly become a matter of extreme urgency? Late ’97, 6 sets were withdrawn for “essential maintenance”. They still haven’t been serviced. In March ’98 another 7 were withdrawn. They aren’t being serviced either. The Department now wants all O2BA sets retired by December ’98.
The Union’s State Committee has already determined that O2BA must be maintained for public safety (tunnel and ship incidents, etc.) and member safety. Long-duration air simply doesn’t fill the gap created by the loss of O*BA. Importantly, the O2BA allowance is currently $2.94 per shift. The loss of the allowance means not only the loss to qualified operators of approx. $500 pa, it also means the loss of a unit from your superannuation – literally many $1000’s .
The Union’s preferred position to date has been simple – buy new sets, and service the BG 174’s in the interim. The Department now claims that the new Drager BG 4 positive pressure set is unacceptable. It is also arguing that lack of ongoing medicals means no-one can wear the BG 174. It really started when O2 training ceased without warning back in ’94. A quick look at Award Clause 6.6.5 reveals why the Department is now saying dual-cylinder air sets can do the job.
More O2BA sets were removed from 9 Stn. yesterday – 63 sets remain in service. If the number of sets falls below 63, industrial action can be expected to follow.