D&D – Latest Union to Govt. Correspondence
September 15, 1999
15th September, 1999
Dr Col Gellatly
NSW Premier’s Department
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
Dear Dr Gellatly,
I write further with regard to our ongoing dispute with the Government over NSW firefighters’ death and disability benefits.
On September 7, the Minister for Emergency Services wrote to all Government MP’s claiming (in part) that the Union “has walked away from the agreed framework”. I can only assume that the Minister was referring to the now long-rejected Heads of Agreement dated August 13.
I readily concede that my August 13 correspondence concerning the Heads of Agreement could well have been better put. However, on August 28 I sought to clarify that the Heads of Agreement had not been accepted by our members, only that the rank and file membership had agreed to suspend our industrial bans and limitations in order to allow full and proper negotiations to be carried out over the ensuing fortnight. In any event, I now wish to make it absolutely clear to you and the Government that the August 13 Heads of Agreement has not been accepted by our Union, and that it can not be considered to be a suitable vehicle to resolve our dispute.
What, then, is the appropriate vehicle?
As you are aware, in 1997 the Government entered into a consent Award with our Union which contained a number of joint commitments. One such commitment (at Clause 5.2.4) was:
To engage a consultant, agreed to by the Department [ie the NSWFB] and the Union, to develop, within two years of the date of making this Award, a new superannuation scheme for employees [ie firefighters]. Such development is to be in consultation with other NSW Emergency Services organisations, the Treasury and Premier’s Department.
To date the Government has refused to fulfil this commitment -a rather hypocritical stance given that an alleged failure to fulfil outstanding Award commitments is the very ground on which the Government appears to be refusing to negotiate with the Teachers’ Federation at present. Contrary to the Minister’s assertions, the only party to walk away from any agreed framework to date has been the Government, which literally sprinted away from its 1997 commitment to develop a new superannuation scheme for firefighters.
You would of course be aware that firefighters’ death and disability benefits and the superannuation commitment were at the heart of a significant dispute between the parties in 1997 (matter no. IRC97/6603). The resolution to that dispute is instructive.
On November 25 1997 the Union proposed certain terms of settlement to the NSW Fire Brigades (acting on behalf of the PEO), including:
- that the Union’s nominee, being Mr Iain Smith of I. Smith Consulting Services Pty Ltd, be accepted as the consultant to develop a new superannuation scheme for NSWFB employees in accordance with Clause 5.2.4 of the Crown Employees (NSW Fire Brigades Firefighting Staff) Award, 1997;
- that it is accepted that the fundamental principles guiding the development of such a superannuation scheme shall be to achieve equitable benefits for all employees, and that there be no diminution of any existing employees’ benefits;
- that it is accepted that such a superannuation scheme is to be developed by no later than August 31, 1998;
- that it is accepted that such a superannuation scheme is to cover both permanent and retained firefighters;
- that there will be no fitness standard or fitness assessment of firefighters introduced before the implementation of such a superannuation scheme.
On November 26 1997, the NSW Fire Brigades replied (in part) as follows:
In your letter you nominate Mr Iain Smith as of I. Smith Consulting Services Pty Ltd, as the consultant to develop a new superannuation scheme in accordance with clause 5.2.4. of the Crown Employees (NSW Fire Brigades Firefighting Staff) Award. As Mr Smith is not known to me I will get back to you as soon as I can in respect to his acceptability.
The fundamental principle relating to the development of the new superannuation scheme is recognised as being one of equity and it is not envisaged that there will be any diminution of benefits already applying to firefighters covered by other schemes. Whilst I cannot give an unfettered assurance that the scheme will be developed “no later than 31 August 1998”, I suggest that we both do our best to conclude it by that date and am conscious of the recommendation made in that regard by Conciliation Commission Tabbaa on 24 November, 1997.
During the development period aspects of superannuation benefits for firefighters generally can be considered.
In all the circumstances I do not believe it would be in the Department’s best interest to enforce a fitness standard or assessment of firefighters until the superannuation issue has been finalised, however, the Department will continue to encourage and support the notion of firefighters attaining a standard of fitness which will best assist them in their endeavours to carry out their operational duties.
Our expectations for a new firefighters’ superannuation scheme were obviously heightened by the Department’s (ie the PEO’s) undertakings at that time. Needless to say those expectations remain, as evidenced in my writing to you on August 25 1999 that:
the normal – and best – way to handle this [problem] would be to establish a superannuation scheme that provided additional death and disability benefits required in the event of death or disablement 24 hours a day. As you are aware, the 1997 permanent firefighters’ Award has now expired. However, the commitment to develop a new superannuation scheme for employees remains unfulfilled. The Union is not prepared to see that commitment abandoned, and your intentions with regard to this development are now formally sought.
Sadly, your reply dated September 2 1999 (under the sub-section titled “1997 Award Cl. 5.2.4) was less than reassuring:
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.
With respect, the Union was not seeking the Government’s assessment of what it considers to be adequate protection, or otherwise, for our members. It is also the case that the time for the Government to “examine the feasibility of this commitment” was prior to the making of that Award, not now. We fully expect the Government to honour its commitment to introduce a new superannuation scheme for firefighters which, after all, clearly remains the most equitable, logical and appropriate vehicle for the resolution of this dispute.
During the course of Monday’s report back to Justice Walton of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, counsel for the Government advised that the Government was expecting to present a revised offer to the Union “within the next 7 days”. Suffice to say that we await the Government’s response with great interest.