Yesterday the State Government listed a dispute before the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW regarding the Union’s stance on abiding by Award conditions. The Government argued that it should be allowed to depart from rostering arrangements in direct contravention of those conditions. The matter was again heard before the Commission today.
The hearing was reconvened today and the following recommendation (in part) was made by Industrial Relations Commissioner Ian Cambridge:
“That the Public Employment Office (PEO) accepts that as a matter of principle there should be no disparity between death and disability benefits that are provided to New South Wales Firefighters who are injured in the course of their employment. Therefore the PEO undertakes to implement a scheme to provide for supplementary benefits to those New South Wales Firefighters who do not enjoy the more attractive death and disability benefits applicable to those Firefighters who have previously had access to the State Superannuation Fund (SSF)…”
The State Government refused to abide by the recommendation and continued to push for Dispute Orders against the Union. In a landmark statement Commissioner Cambridge castigated the Government for its response to the Union’s responsible and reasonable claims:
“The Commission issues this Statement as a consequence of the rejection by the Public Employment Office (PEO) earlier today of Recommendations. The Commission is disturbed by the PEO’s rejection of a general principle that there should be no disparity between death and disability benefits that are provided to New South Wales Firefighters who are injured in the course of their employment. It is a matter of great regret that the PEO has been unable to embrace as a general principle that as an employer it should treat employees with equity and fairness.
“The actions of the PEO in the rejection of Recommendations aimed at the postponement of industrial action contingent upon, in essence, a commitment to a general principle that would provide for equity and fairness to employees is highly regrettable. It is even further disturbing that the explanations provided by the PEO as support for the rejection of such a commitment are plainly unreasonable, unnecessarily pedantic, and against the interests of industrial harmony.
“Consequently the Commission is prepared to, of its own motion, initiate a procedure to commence Proceedings before a Full Bench of this Commission aimed at the making of an Award to redress any inequities that exist as between New South Wales Firefighters in respect of death and disability benefits. Therefore the Commission will refer the making of such an Award to the President of the Commission pursuant to section 193 of the Industrial Relations Act (the Act). Such referral will be made following the conclusion of Proceedings this evening. The Commission as currently constituted will request that the matter of the referral pursuant to section 193 be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“Finally the Commission reiterates that the conduct of the PEO in respect of its failure to accept the spirit of Recommendations made by this Commission in order to avoid industrial action and to generally provide for basic fairness and equity. represents a significant and disturbing departure from responsible and appropriate conduct on the part of a major employer in this State.”
In his summation of the matters that had been presented before him today, Commissioner Cambridge questioned how, in the event of three firefighters dying onduty in the intervening period, the Government could explain to two widows of the three why they were not entitled to the same pensions as the member covered by the State Superannuation Fund.
The Government, not the Union, brought this matter before the independent umpire, ie. the Industrial Relations Commission. The assessment of the Commission is clearly damning of the Government’s “inherently wrong” stance. Can there be any doubt whatsoever that our Union is entirely correct in our position.
All Union instructions stand. Proceedings continue in the Commission tomorrow (Saturday) at 1000 Hours.