D&D – Govt. Corro & Union Reply
September 3, 1999
The two letters which follow represent the latest exchange of correspondence between the Government and our Union on the death and disability dispute. The Union’s response of today follows immediately after the conclusion of the Government’s letter of yesterday. Both letters follow on from the previous exchange of correspondence between the parties dated 24 & 25 August, and should therefore be read in conjunction with those letters.
Government to Union Re D&D, dated 2/9/99
New South Wales
Public Sector Management Office
Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Mr Chris Read
NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union
267 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
I refer to the ongoing discussion and correspondence concerning your Union’s claim for enhanced benefits for firefighters who are injured or killed whilst engaged in operational duties.
The Government is most disappointed that your Union has abandoned the Heads of Agreement reached with you on 13 August 1999. The Government is also extremely disappointed that your Union has re-imposed a range of bans and limitations that are restricting the full and efficient operation of the New South Wales Fire Brigade.
Notwithstanding your Union’s provocative action the Government remains committed to the principles contained in the 13 August Heads of Agreement and wishes to finalise an industrial instrument to reflect that Agreement.
In your discussion with the Public Sector Management Office (PSMO) on 26 August you were given a detailed verbal response to your letter of 25 August. During the meeting you were also given an indication of some areas where further compromise might be possible. It was reiterated by the PSMO representatives that any further movement would not expand the principles contained in the Heads of Agreement.
The Government has now had the opportunity to fully consider the issues raised in your letter of 25 August as well as your comments and supporting arguments made in conference.
I set out below the Government’s final position on the issues you raised.
Quantum of pension benefit
The Government is prepared to increase the quantum to 63% of salary at the time of the incident that gives rise to the benefit entitlement.
Nature of instrument to be used for recording agreement
The Government does not believe special legislation is necessary. The terms of the new benefit proposed by the Government should be reflected in an award of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission.
Age 60 cap on benefits
As previously advised to you the Government is prepared to agree to this proposal provided it can be done lawfully. On 30 August the PSMO, the Deputy Director General of the Premier’s Department, and the Commissioner of the NSW Fire Brigades met with the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to explore the feasibility of this proposal.
Although no agreement on an exemption from the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act was reached at that meeting, the NSW Fire Brigades were invited to make a written submission on the issue and the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board indicated that he was prepared to consider a comprehensive well reasoned case that focused on OH&S issues.
The NSW Fire Brigades management has commenced work preparing such a case.
The Government remains committed to extending pro-rata benefits to this group.
De facto definition
The Government is prepared to extend the definition to incorporate the definition contained in the Personal Carers Leave Test Case of August 1992.
The Government is not prepared to extend this offer to situations other than those described in the definition of “operational duties” contained in the draft agreement previously supplied to you.
1997 Award Cl.5.2.4
In examining the feasibility of this commitment, the NSW Fire Brigades engaged actuarial consultants to examine available options. The Government believes that the commitment to enter the special arrangement flowing from the Heads of Agreement provides adequate enhanced protection for your members.
Firefighter with permanent partial disability
When the Government agreed to a firefighter not able to perform the full range of operational duties not having to face the prospect of forced medical retirement, your Union clearly accepted that it was reasonable to withdraw our earlier offer of a special lump sum payment to permanently partially disabled firefighters.
Your new claim for a partial pension is rejected.
Scope of Coverage
The Government is prepared to extend the scope of coverage in the draft agreement previously supplied to you to incorporate those firefighters who are not members of either SASS or FSS but who are having their superannuation guarantee contribution made to a complying superannuation scheme in terms of section 10 of the First State Superannuation Act 1992.
Health and Fitness Standards
The introduction of mandatory health and fitness standards is an integral part of our proposal. The Government is prepared to slightly extend the timetable for introduction to allow an orderly transition from the current arrangement.
The Government sees no real problem with the existing mechanisms within the Fire Service being replicated in the new Award.
I note with some concern the comment in your letter of 25 August 1999 that the points you raise “should not be seen as either comprehensive or conclusive”. I would hope that you share the Government’s aim of bringing this matter to resolution swiftly and not have resolution delayed by the parties not operating within clearly defined parameters.
The Government is committed to advancing a new benefit to compensate firefighters who are not members of SSS for injury or death arising from engagement in operational duties, as defined in our draft agreement.
The Government has been generous in its offer and extremely tolerant in the face of provocative industrial action. I ask you to consider the details of our enhanced offer carefully and to recognise the sound principles on which it is made.
I request that all bans and limitations be lifted forthwith to allow an orderly process of ratification of a new Award to occur.
If bans and limitations are not lifted, the Government will need to refer the dispute back to the Industrial Commission to seek the Commission’s assistance, with its wide-ranging powers, to settle the dispute.
I look forward to your prompt and positive response.
Union to Government dated 2/9/99
3rd September, 1999
Dr Col Gellatly
Premier’s Department of NSW
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
Dear Dr Gellatly,
I write in response to your correspondence of yesterday, the tone of which was both belligerent and threatening. As such, it could not seriously be considered to be in any way helpful toward the resolution of this dispute.
I think it would serve the parties well to reflect on the words of the Minister, the Hon. Bob Debus, before we travel too much further. In his letter to all Government MP’s dated 9 August, 1999, the Minister advised (in part) as follows:
As a matter of principle, the Government believes there should be no disparity between death and disability benefits for front line NSW firefighters and its offer to the FBEU reflects this.
The Government’s stated commitment to parity in death and disability benefits is more than clear. However, it is equally clear that the Government’s offer does not reflect this commitment. “No” disparity does not of course mean “some” disparity. Should the Government’s negotiating position ever come to reflect the Government’s stated position of principle, then I expect that we will be able to settle this dispute very quickly indeed.
I note with profound disappointment that the Government has made some minor movement on some issues, but none whatsoever in the vast majority of the remaining areas of contention. Even where movement was made, it was still nowhere near far enough. Suffice to say that our position remains unaltered from that advanced in our letter of August 25.
NSW firefighters’ currently have the worst death and disability benefits available to any firefighters within Australia. It is outrageous, but nonetheless true that they are also the poorest death and disability provisions available to any firefighters within the OECD group of nations! The Minister has written that “the offer compares well with the schemes operating in other states”. This is sheer and utter nonsense. Looking south to Victoria, the existing Emergency Services Superannuation Scheme (ESSS) in operation there would far outstrip the level of benefits proposed under the Government’s offer. The fact is that the Kennett Coalition Government continues to maintain appropriate death and disability benefits for Victorian firefighters without complaint or issue. The Carr Labor Government’s continued refusal to do so speaks volumes – the Government’s position is both morally and politically bankrupt.
I note your thinly veiled threat with regard to the IRC and it’s “wide-ranging powers” which we assume was somehow intended to frighten our members into submission. Which party is being provocative? Regrettably, coming as that threat does from a Government which now appears almost eager to engage in open warfare with the trade union movement, we are not at all surprised. Let me assure you that any move the Government may make against our Union will be responded to in a most direct fashion.
I again confirm that firefighters are committed to achieving an appropriate outcome, not an industrial struggle. As such we remain prepared to meet at short notice. However, it must by now be clear that the Government will first need to seriously rethink its approach before there can be any hope of a resolution to this dispute, or of the Union lifting its bans.
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