President’s Response to Commissioner’s Update
November 19, 1999
Dear FBEU member,
The Union has received numerous calls regarding the Commissioner’s Industrial Update. It is pleasing that most members saw the Commissioner’s message as disingenuous. I have dissected the “Update”, provided some comment and referred to a few quotes directly from the Commissioner during the dispute over Death and Disability cover for members employed pre-1985.
Please take the time to read this critique and discuss it the issues in question with anyone else with an interest.
COMMISSIONER’S INDUSTRIAL UPDATES, 18/11/99
Ian MacDougall writes in the section headed
1. “The Commission has decided that it will not consider the matter while the union has bans in place as part of the death and disability dispute.”
- Sure, that is what the Industrial Relations Commission decided BUT what isn’t mentioned is that Commissioner MacDougall’s legal team strenuously argued that there should be no negotiations on your award.
2. “While these bans are in place, negotiations with the union about new Awards cannot take place.”
- They certainly can if the Department is willing. But out of sheer bloody-mindedness, the Department has decided they won’t negotiate.
3. “There are also 21 outstanding matters which were agreed as part of the old Awards. Until these joint undertakings are implemented no negotiations can reasonably take place on new Firefighters’ Awards.”
- Dead right. And one of those commitments is Clause 5.2.4 in the Award which reads:
5.2.4 To engage a consultant, agreed to by the Department and the Union, to develop, within two years of the date of making this Award, a new superannuation scheme for employees. Such development to be in consultation with other NSW Emergency Services organisations, the Treasury and Premiers’ Department.
The whole reason for this dispute is that the Commissioner refuses to implement this commitment.
DEATH AND DISABILITY DISPUTE
4. “Unfortunately, the union has now sent a fairly minimal response which only deletes some clauses of the proposed Award. There has been no attempt by the union to explain its position although this is what the Commission expected. The union has even decided to delete from the draft Award matters that were previously agreed in-principle, e.g. the introduction of a health and fitness policy.”
- The Union’s response was precisely in the terms required of us from the Industrial Relations Commission. Having spent hundreds of hours in Court we have certainly explained our position in an exhaustive and robust fashion. The Union is on the record as supporting a Health and Fitness Policy-as long as there is a safety net. (i.e a Death and Disability scheme that mirrors that of the other 50% of the workforce) Moreover, we agree with the Commissioner who wrote in correspondence to the Union the following.
“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”– Ian MacDougall AC, 26/11/97
5. “This is one of very few remaining points of difference in the dispute. The union’s claim that a firefighter should be covered by the Government for off-duty injuries – even while working at a second job – cannot be sustained.”
- Add “second jobs” to the list that already includes rock fishing and water skiing as a means of denigrating and misrepresenting firefighters. That is not the case and it is a measure of the Commissioners ignorance that he believes (or simply asserts for political purposes) that we seek off duty cover for matters that are not entirely related to our employment as a firefighter.
The Union seeks to provide cover for the growing number of members who are dying or succumbing to illness ON AND OFF DUTY. Firefighters are dying 10 years before the rest of the population, they are contracting more cancers, diseases (including heart disease) and they are more likely to have physical and mental breakdowns earlier in their life. Combined with the introduction of HEALTH AND FITNESS TESTING it should be clear that firefighters are, more than ever, facing a shortened career. The fact that these breakdowns, these deaths might occur off duty in no way diminishes the claim that they have been caused or hastened by their work as a firefighter. For example, if your knee joints degenerate as a result of 20 years climbing over rubble, tripping in the dark whist doing Search and Rescue, wearing heavy PPE with a SCBA on your back, jumping over fences, crawling along the ground, running down stairs when the bells go off etc. etc. and your knee collapses when you pick up your kid at home then you are stuffed. But if it happens when you lift a hydrant cover then you are covered. It is illogical! Remember this is about superannuation for a profession like no other – not Workers Comp!!!!!!!!!!
5. “I want to emphasise that there is no question that the death and disability cause is just. Firefighters face risks like few others and they deserve better cover.
Senior Brigades executives have pushed strongly to meet these legitimate concerns. It is precisely because of these unavoidable and special risks faced by firefighters that the Government has recognised the need to significantly improve benefits for firefighters who are members of the post-1985 superannuation schemes when they are engaged in operational duties.”
- If the Death and Disability is a “just cause”, then why does the Department no longer support it? All firefighters will remember a Commissioner and other “Senior Brigade executives” who claimed to support a “just cause” but took flight when the going got tough. In nautical terms they are called fairweather sailors. In political terms they are sell outs.
When bushfires ringed the city, floods washed away a lifetime’s possessions, hailstorms battered Sydney or on any other occasion where the state’s professional firefighters needed support, the Commissioner gave way to Phil Koperberg. Yet the only time he agreed to go on TV was when he accused firefighters of wanting death and disability cover to provide for accidents when they are rock fishing or water skiing. Lest we forget!
6. “The Government has a clear offer on the table which addresses the major issues which gave rise to this dispute. Meanwhile the bans are having negative effects on morale and operations without achieving the union’s goals…. These bans are counter-productive. We need to sit down together and negotiate better death and disability cover for firefighters and get on with negotiating a new Award that will take the Brigades into the future as a united service.”
- Beware the person who in the last sentence speaks of unity yet in the first sentence seeks to divide. The budget’s unnplanned expenditure could have been avoided if the Commissioner had planned – and budgeted – to honour his own words. They were:
“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” – Ian MacDougall AC, 27/11/97
As for the biggest expansion in 70 years, most members would be aware that the Union did all the political groundwork and intense lobbying for the raft of new stations that are now opening and left the Brigade to lap up the glory. They can have the credit – we only want the jobs.
Thanks for taking the time to read this analysis. The Commissioner’s Industrial Update is his own work and the work of a thousand spin doctors – and not one of them is a firefighter.