Award negotiations update #5
February 26, 2000
Members would be aware that last Thursday, 24 February was the date scheduled for the conclusion of Award negotiations. It was also the day on which the second $350 payment was to be made. Neither occurred.
The Union’s State Committee of Management met yesterday to consider our response to the Department’s correspondence of 24/2/00 (see Update #4 on our website) wherein they sought to extend the deadline for negotiations by a further 4 weeks. The State Committee’s various decisions are reflected in the following letter which was forwarded to the Department late yesterday, but can basically be summarised as follows:
- That the negotiation deadline for settlement of the permanent Award now be extended to 31 March;
- That the retained Award must now also be settled by 31 March;
- That D&D negotiations must recommence immediately, and that this issue too is to be settled by 31 March; and
- That the 2nd $350 payment must now be made on the next pay day (9/3/00) regardless of the progress or otherwise of the negotiations.
The Department has been asked to respond by close of business this Monday. If they do not, or if our Union’s position is rejected then a Special General Meeting will be called for the week commencing 6/3/00 (ie Monday-week). Update #6 will be issued by fax and posted to our website late Monday afternoon.
State Secretary Saturday 26th February, 2000
UNION RESPONSE TO DEPT’S LETTER OF 24/2/00 (PAGE 1 OF 3 PAGES)
25th February 2000
Mr. Ian MacDougall
New South Wales Fire Brigades
PO BOX A249
SYDNEY SOUTH NSW 1232
UNION RESPONSE TO DEPT’S LETTER OF 24/2/00 (PAGE 2 OF 3 PAGES)
Re: Framework Agreement and Incomplete Negotiations
I write in response to your correspondence of 24 February 2000 concerning the progression of the Union’s applications for new permanent and retained firefighting Awards, and the ongoing Death and Disability dispute.
During the course of its meeting today, the Union’s State Committee of Management considered your proposal to extend the previously agreed timetable for negotiations by a further four weeks. As you would be aware, any extension beyond the previously agreed date of 24 February requires the agreement of both parties. In response, the Union now proposes what is in effect a five (not four) week extension to 31 March provided that:
- As a sign of good faith, the employer (ie not only your Department, but also Premiers’ Department) now agrees to the unconditional payment of the second $350 payment to all permanent firefighters arising from the 15 December 1999 Framework Agreement on the next scheduled pay day, being 9 March 2000; and
- In view of this extension and the previous understanding between the parties that the retained Award was to be settled within one month of the settlement of the permanent Award, the employer now agrees to the inclusion of the Union’s application for a new retained Award within the newly proposed negotiation timetable of 31 March; and
- The employer agrees to the immediate recommencement of the negotiations concerning firefighters’ Death and Disability benefits, which shall henceforth be conducted concurrently with the negotiations for the permanent and retained Awards; and
- The employer agrees to the immediate elevation of Award negotiations, at least with regard to term of the Awards and the quantum of any wage increases, to the Ministerial level.
With regard to the other points of detail raised in your 24 February correspondence, I advise firstly that the Union fully understands the Government’s current public sector pay offer, or at least that offer accepted by the Public Service Association (PSA), Health and Research Employees’ Association (HREA) and NSW Nurses Federation. The Government is without doubt entitled to its position on this matter, but so too is our Union. Whilst the Government’s blanket “take it or leave it” approach to quantum and term does not in any way represent negotiation this Union, unlike the Government, remains open to further discussion on this point – notwithstanding your concern that we might “be breaking new ground”.
Your advice that Government is requiring some $11M in so-called productivity improvements to fund, “in real dollar terms”, 6% of these wage increases is noted. The unbridled nonsense inherent in this position is borne out by the admission by your Department’s representatives that even if the Union were to agree to all of your Department’s claims in this Award round then the savings achieved would still not amount to the 6% return expected by Government.
As to staffing issues and the apparent concern of the Department over the Union’s claim for a “two for one” deal, I would direct you to the 1997 Statement of Agreed Position between the parties. In particular I would draw your attention to the “Principles” pre-amble, Clause 5 which reads:
“This Statement of Agreed Position, henceforth referred to as the Agreed Position:
5. Establishes the principles of funding agreed between the FBEU and the NSW Fire Brigades in respect of salary adjustments for NSW Fire Brigades employees covered by the FBEU under the Awards for Permanent and Retained Fire Fighters.”
Fundamental to that Agreed Position was the “two for one” arrangement involving water tanker staffing. It is therefore only appropriate that the parties should continue to apply this “established principle” to any discussions concerning staffing in this Award round.
Further to this point, the Union’s State Committee of Management today formally rejected the Department’s proposal to close Guildford and Fairfield Fire Stations in favour of a new single Fire Station at Yennora, primarily because neither the Union’s elected officials nor our rank and
UNION RESPONSE TO DEPT’S LETTER OF 24/2/00 (PAGE 3 OF 3 PAGES)
file members attached to the Stations concerned share your Department’s view that this proposal would maintain required fire cover standards.
It is true that the Union’s representatives did at one stage indicate to the Department’s representatives that your proposal to abolish the firefighting relieving corps “might have wings”. However, this was stated on the expectation that this proposal would, if agreed to, attract general wage increases of 4% (or more) for all members. It should have come as no surprise then to learn that the Union rejected this proposal as soon as your representatives advised us that this “productivity saving” would, in the Department’s opinion, be worth no more than $700K per annum – a mere 0.33% wage increase.
The Union shall continue to press for our claim for the inclusion of the 10/14 rostered overtime component of our members’ total weekly (and fully taxable) wage as part of their superable salary. It is the Union’s view that the reintroduction of concurrent discussions on both Awards and the Death and Disability dispute coupled with the re-exploration of the joint 1997 Award commitment to the development of new superannuation scheme for firefighters will provide a way for this particular claim to be carried forward.
Whilst the Union remains open to further negotiation on the question of a rescue allowance for its members, it would seem that the Department is not. The Department made an early offer of $4.55 per rostered shift and has refused to move since that time. Similar to the point I raised earlier concerning the Government’s position on wages, this cannot in any way be construed as genuine or open negotiation. Further, the Union refutes your suggestion that the amount on offer from the Department “exceeds what is paid to members of Police Rescue Squads”, although we do concede that it is not necessarily appropriate for this allowance to factored on or around allowances payable within other services.
The Union has been greatly disappointed by the recurring failure of the Government to coordinate a coherent and timely response amongst its various agencies (eg, Fire Brigades, Premiers’ Department, Office of Emergency Services and Treasury) throughout these negotiations. Your Department’s representatives have consistently cited various negotiating parameters within which they must operate as reasons for stalled negotiations, a difficulty reasserted by yourself in your correspondence of yesterday. This being the case, the Union now considers it not only appropriate but absolutely necessary that we now negotiate directly with those persons who are determining these parameters. To do otherwise would be to waste both the Department’s and the Union’s time.
I believe that it would be to the mutual benefit of the Department and the FBEU (who, rather than being some “third-party” as you imply are in fact the Brigades’ firefighters) for agreement to be reached on the terms and timetables proposed herein. Assuming such agreement is reached, our Union shall continue to make every possible effort, including meeting around the clock with Government representatives if necessary, in order to successfully conclude these negotiations.
In closing I would ask that you contact me directly should there be any uncertainty or confusion on your part with regard to this correspondence, and that you provide a written response to our Union by no later than close of business on Monday 28 February 2000.
cc: Bob Carr, NSW Premier
Mike Egan, NSW Treasurer
Bob Debus, NSW Minister for Emergency Services