February general update

February 13, 2002

Inside this notice:

  • Vale the Volunteer?
  • Another Bushfire Appeal
  • Rescue changeover scrapped
  • SCOM appointments
  • 2002 SOPP
  • Unfair = fair says Tony Abbott
  • In Brief…

Vale the Volunteer?

Last Friday the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that the federal and state governments would cooperate to pay volunteer firefighters $160 per day for lost earnings through the recent bushfires. That’s right, Carr’s Vichy Labor has collaborated with Howard to pay the equivalent of $800 for a 5 day week – which is pretty handy money for “volunteering”.

It was interesting to note the references to NSWFB firefighters during last Friday’s speeches. Everyone from the Governor-General down referred to our members as the professional firefighters, all except two. Bob Carr opted instead for the “full time” tag, whilst Emperor Phil went for “salaried”. They’d obviously both forgotten about the $160 a day.

Whilst the debate is ongoing as to what exactly defines a volunteer, there’s general agreement on one point – volunteers are not paid. The ABC on Saturday reported Tasmania’s Chief Fire Officer, John Gledhill, as questioning the payment: “I mean it’s not something they expect any remuneration for, and in fact it almost goes against the whole ethos of being a volunteer,”. Only “almost” John?

Vale the volunteer firefighter, and welcome the new era of the RFS casual contractor.

 Another Bushfire Appeal

Whilst everyone obviously feels for those who lost their homes and their possessions in the recent bushfires, many struggle to sympathise with the those who actually bought/owned their home but did not insure it. Ordinarily if you were unfortunate enough to have your uninsured home destroyed by fire then most people would say (if only under their breath) that you were stupid. But lose your home during the “world’s biggest ever bushfires” and Governments will set aside millions while the TV stations and newspapers start up telethons, fund-raisers and chocolate wheels to “see you right”. Why the distinction?

Does the scale of a fire (and the corresponding media coverage) make the loss of someone’s home and personal belongings any more or less tragic? Does the fact that a single house was destroyed by fire in Tempe last night make that family’s loss any more or less devastating to them than the 150 properties which were lost in the recent bushfires? Of course not, yet the family from Tempe has Buckley’s of picking up any public sympathy or financial support for the simple reason that they’re not “bushfire victims”.

Of course the same goes for floods. Only a fraction of the millions raised in bushfire appeals is ever raised in flood appeals, yet floods are frequently far more destructive than even the very worst bushfires. An Insurance Council rep once explained this difference by saying that floods (which are portrayed as static, dirty and smelly) aren’t as “media-sexy” as bushfires (which are all flashing lights, action and bravery), so the public simply don’t respond in the same way to flood appeals – even though the need is probably greater. It doesn’t make sense.

Of the $6M raised so far, less than $2M has gone to the victims. Whatever isn’t spent will be given to the RFS. Why should members of the public want (or need) to donate their hard-earned money to a NSW Government department like the RFS when the Carr Government continues to boast year after year about massive budget surpluses? It’s all the more obscene when you consider that Carr Labor still spends less $ per head of population on emergency services than any other state. Meanwhile, the NSWFB continues to drown in $23M of debt.

The generosity of the public is heartening, but the Government’s cynical manipulation of that generosity (not to mention the irrationality of it all) is most definitely not.

 Rescue Changeover scrapped

Rumours have been rife for several months that the NSWFB would shortly take over primary rescue responsibilties from existing Ambulance (and possibly Police) Rescue units. We can now all but confirm that those plans have long since been shelved.

When we met with the Minister’s staff in October to discuss a number of issues, including the changeover, we were threatened that the rescue changeover wouldn’t go ahead unless we immediately agreed to a huge list of so-called “reforms”, including (but not limited to):

  • closing all retained Stations in the GSA, and some Stns in Newcastle and Wollongong;
  • closing 5 permanent 10/14 Stations (10,26, 53, 55 and 73); and
  • abolishing the relieving corps and returning to unlimited outduties.

Put simply we said no, and so too it seems did the Carr Government to any rescue changes. Yes, we’d like more of a role in rescue – but not at the expense of existing jobs or conditions.

SCOM appointments

The two casual vacancies on the Union’s State Committee of Management caused by the resignations of Comrades Graham Webb and Bob Kinsela (see notice dated 20/11/01) were both filled at the State Committee meeting of 25 January. Comrades Matthew Murray (17 D) and Greg O’Connor (29 B) have been appointed to the offices of Sydney South West Sub-Branch Secretary and Senior Officers’ Sub-Branch Secretary respectively, and will now holdi those positions through until the next full SCOM election due in the second quarter of 2003.

 2002 SOPP

Several members have contacted the Union to question why only 40 positions have been advertised for this, the first year of the Station Officers’ Promotional Program. The Union has made representations to the Department, questioning the low number of positions, however management are standing by their decision.

Clause 13.8.1 of the Award requires that “the number of positions available in that year’s Station Officers’ Promotion Program shall be specified in the same In Orders, and will be solely dependent on the forward planning needs of the Department”. The Department therefore makes the sole decision on the numbers for each year’s SOPP. Whether or not the Department will run short of S/O’s remains to be seen, but with no LF’s and no acting-up, overtime for Station Officer members can only be expected to rise.


Unfair = fair says Tony Abbott

The “Fair Dismissal” Bill introduced today by the Howard Government is yet another attack by conservative governments on Australian workers. If this Bill is passed and you work in a small business then your boss will be able to sack you at any time, for any reason, and you’ll have no right of appeal. Why? Not because your boss is right, and not because you’re wrong, but simply because your boss employs less than 20 people. That’s fair – NOT!

Tony Abbott’s Orwellian decision to rename the Bill (from “unfair” to “fair”) can’t hide the fact that he has one goal in mind: the unfair sacking of workers. It will be a long 3 years.

 And briefly ….

  • the tankers from 78, 82 and 86 are definitely staying put;
  • the “NSW Firefighter” journal will return to quarterly publication next month;
  • the D&D Dispute is back in the IRC for mention on 26 March;
  • the Union has been asked to file submissions for the bushfire coronial by 30 June;
  • messroom talk of another SSF buy-out is completely unfounded; and
  • the Union has secured a $100,000 grant from WorkCover for OH&S in the firefighting industry;
  • the financial statements for 2000-2001 are available in pdf format for both the FBEU and the UFUA NSW Branch.

Chris Read,
State Secretary 



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