Award negotiations update #3

November 12, 2003

About the Union’s new rank structure

Why abolish ranks?

The traditional existence of different “levels” or grades within certain ranks has served one main purpose – to allow the employer to pay some members less for what is effectively the same job. Over the years the Union has worked to remove those levels – each time bringing members in the deleted ranks up to the next higher rank (and higher rate of pay). For example, prior to 1994 there were 4 grades of Station Officer and 2 grades of Inspector (formerly District Officer), so where 10 years ago there were 6 separate grades and pay levels today there are only 3.

The Union’s proposed removal of one Station Officer and two Firefighter Levels is entirely consistent with this approach.

What happens to Firefighter ranks (Recruit to Level 4)?

It’s proposed that the current 5 ranks – Recruit to FL4 – be compressed to just 3 ranks, as follows:

Current rank                               Corresponding new rank

Recruit                                          Recruit

Firefighter Level 1                      Recruit

Firefighter Level 2                      Firefighter Level 1

Firefighter Level 3                      Firefighter Level 1

Firefighter Level 4                      Firefighter Level 2

Qualified Firefighter                   Firefighter Level 2

It might look like a demotion for some, but it’s not. On current (ie, pre-2004 Award) dollars, a member currently earns a total of $230,925 by the end of the first 5 years’ service. That figure would rise to $233,160, or $2,235 more under the Union’s new rank/wage structure:

Time spent                           Current ranks / earnings                         New ranks / earnings

0 to 16 weeks                       Recruit             $12,005                         Recruit             $12,327

after 12 months                    FL1                  $29,239                          Recruit             $27,726

after 24 months                    FL2                  $44,393                          FL1                  $45,560

after 36 months                    FL3                  $46,411                           FL1                  $45,560

after 36 months                    FL4                  $48,428                          FL2                  $50,920

after 48 months                    QF                   $50,449                           FL2                  $50,920

After 5 years’ service        Total =              $230,925                        Total =              $233,160

Doesn’t that mean that FL1’s and FL3’s get a pay cut?

No. The above figures are all based on current (pre-2004 Award) dollars, so a 6% pay increase would lift the new Recruit rate to $42,468 and the new FL1 rate to $48,335. If the new rates did leave any rank behind then special transitional arrangements would see members holding their “old” rate of pay until they progressed to a new, higher rate. Further, all members would benefit from the revised structure in subsequent years – not least through the progression to SF after 5 (not the current 6) years’ service, which means another $2,000+ extra over the course of that 5th year.

Why abolish the Qualified Firefighter rank?

Over the years the employer has made numerous attempts to abolish to the rank of Senior Firefighter on the grounds that there was no real difference in roles or responsibilities between a SF and a QF. Their idea had always been re-badge the current QF rank as SF – but to pay the “new” SF rank at the QF’s (lower) rate of pay. If they had their way, they’d eventually deliver a 4% pay cut for the job’s 1,100 Senior Firefighters.

The Union’s approach is exactly the opposite because we’re proposing to abolish the QF rank, not the SF rank. Existing QF’s will be re-aligned at the new FL2 rank, although at a higher rate of pay. We are further attempting to lift the SF’s current rank from $52,467 to $53,600 pa before any % increase is applied under the 2004 Award.

The bottom line is that both QF’s and SF’s will be financially better off, and the rank of SF will be protected against any further attempts by the Department to cut it. Of note here is the fact that today there are 654 Qualified Firefighters in the job. This means that, for the first time in living memory, the SO rank is no longer the 2nd largest rank in the job. There’s onl;y one party which benefits when members do not go on to SF, and that’s the employer.

So what happens to today’s QF’s?

Contrary to the misguided assertions of some, today’s QF’s will not be automatically re-aligned at SF rank. Rather, they will be re-aligned (with a slight pay rise) at the new FL2 rank. Progression to SF will be compulsory for all future firefighters, as it will be for current QF’s who joined the Brigades after 1 January 1996. Those members will have to complete all of the requirements for promotion that existing SF’s have. For QF’s who joined prior to that date, it is the Union’s current position that they be given the option of remaining at FL2 indefinitely, or completing a yet to be developed “bridging” course for promotion to SF. The bottom line is that no firefighter, either current or future, will be financially disadvantaged by the deletion of the QF rank.

Doesn’t this mean a demotion for Senior Firefighters?

No – well not unless you think a $1,133 pay increase before the Award increase and a greatly expanded promotional opportunity is a demotion. But it’s not just about a pay rise. Requiring every future firefighter to progress to SF rank, whilst at the same time maintaining current standards for that promotion, can only lift our general members’ firefighting skills and standards. The new rank structure will also allow SF’s to progress to LF rank without having to scramble and compete against other members for the handful of SO promotions which come up every year. Another important benefit of this is that the 100’s of SF members who are currently stationed outside of the GSA will be able to seek and secure promotion (and a sizeable pay rise) without ever having to return to Sydney.

So how will you get to Leading Firefighter rank?

That’s the big question, and one for which we still have no concrete answer. The important thing we can confirm is that, unlike officer ranks, there will be no cap on total LF numbers.

Current negotiations suggest that progression from SF to LF (and from SO to SSO), will be through the completion of additional modules rather than an examination. Once an SF (or SO) had completed all of those modules then they would undergo in-service training for a short period, with that training course focussing purely on incident management and ignoring the wider management/supervision components of the full SOPP (or IPP).

What’s in it for Station Officers?

A payrise for one. The Union’s revised rank structure positions the new Station Officer rank at $64,320 before any increase from the new Award. In other words, SO’s will receive a payrise before the main pay rise – Station Officers Level 2 going up by $1258, and Station Officers Level 1 by more than $3,784 pa.

Like the new SF to LF proposal, the revised rank structure will allow SO’s to progress to SSO rank without scratch out a spot on the IPP. And again like the SF’s, the 100’s of SO members who are currently stationed outside of the GSA will be able to seek promotion without having to return to Sydney.

The Union’s officials understand that new duties and responsibilities over recent years in recent years have probably impacted more upon the SO rank than any other. It follows that another important element of the Union’s proposal is that SO’s would in future be able to call upon LF’s for direct assistance in carrying our their duties. Rather than simply being an SO in waiting who fills out the odd fire report, LF’s would in future assume direct responsibility for numerous duties which are presently the SO’s sole responsibility. It’s our hope (although it will ultimately be up to the current SF’s) that there would shortly be enough Leading Firefighters to have at least one LF attached to every Station and Platoon.

Why should the SO1’s get such a big leg-up?

The same reason that SO’s B and D Grade got a bigger increase than SO’s A and C Grade did back in 1994. The great majority of today’s SO2’s (who were promoted to SO after 1994) benefited from that change in the same way that SO1’s (current and future) will benefit under this restructure. As explained previously, reducing ranks and rolling members up to the next higher pay point has been a long-term Union strategy.

I’m an SO2. Doesn’t the creation of the SSO rank mean I’m getting a demotion?

It depends on how you look at it. Like the argument raised above for SF’s, if you think a demotion means a pre-award pay-rise and an increased opportunity for promotion, then the answer is probably yes. But if you’re rational about it all then the real answer is clearly no.

Through recent conversations with members it’s become apparent that many SO’s object to the new rank title of “Senior Station Officer”, believing that this means they’ll somehow be downgraded in the Brigades’ pecking order. To the State Committee, however, SSO was only a name to attach the different (higher) rate of pay to, as well as to help identify those SO’s who could (if necessary) act-up to Inspector. Frankly, if it’s going to make members more comfortable then we can change it so that all current SO’s will become Station Officers Level 1, and the new higher pay point can be called Station Officer Level 2.

The bottom line is that the SSO rank (or whatever else we call it) represents a new opportunity for SO’s, both in terms of earnings and career development. If you don’t want to be an SSO then fine, don’t do it – but no SO can be worse off as a result of this new rank.

What will happen to rank insignia?

To be honest you could probably put a pineapple on my head provided you were going to pay me for it. It follows that I fail to see rank insignia as an important issue, although I do concede that some other members might think differently. The answer is that there will be little if any change, save that SF’s with 5-10 years might change to 1 chevron, with 10-15 years keeping the current 2 chevrons and 15 years+ remaining with 3 chevrons. Someone also suggested that the new SSO rank might display 3 impellors. And maybe it won’t. But honestly, does it really matter?

What’s in it for Senior Officers?

The first table below shows the actual dollars payable to four representative ranks in 1993, and again today. It also shows the total (compound) % wage increase for each rank over that ten year period:

Rank                                  1993 rates                     today’s rates                 % increase

Senior Firefighter                $33,276                       $52,467                        57.7%

Station Officer L2               $39,797                        $63,062                       58.5%

Inspector                           $45,558                         $74,996                        64.6%

Superintendent                   $58,430                       $94,130                      61.1%

If one thing’s clear from these figures, it’s that senior ranks have done better out of the last four Award’s than have our more junior (and therefore lower paid) ranks.

One of the primary aims of the State Committee’s revised rank structure has been to attempt to even up this imbalance. We are, after all, a trade union.

So Senior Officer members are being ripped off then?

No. Indeed, if the alternative is a flat % increase across all ranks then no rank will be worse off under the State Committee’s proposal. The following two tables are similar to the first table above, although this time they show what would happen if we accepted the Government’s 3% + 3% offer. The first shows the impact of that 6% (compound) increase on the current rank/pay structure, whilst the second shows the impact of the Union’s proposal. The “Feb 2005” rates are the annual wages which would be payable on 24 February 2005:

3% + 3% on the Current Rank Structure

Rank                                                1993 rates                     Feb 2005 rates              % increase

Senior Firefighter                              $33,276                        $55,662                          67.3%

Station Officer L2                             $39,797                         $66,902                         68.1%

Inspector                                          $45,558                         $79,563                          74.6%

Superintendent                                 $58,430                       $99,862                           70.9%

3% + 3% on the New Rank Structure

Rank                                                1993 rates                     Feb 2005 rates              % increase

Senior Firefighter                              $33,276                        $56,864                          70.9%

Station Officer L2                             $39,797                         $68,237                           71.5%

Inspector                                          $45,558                          $79,610                           74.7%

Superintendent                                 $58,430                        $99,512                            70.3%

So why aren’t Superintendent members worse off?

It’s important to remember that rates of pay are only one component of a member’s overall conditions of employment. When Executive Officers left the Award for the EA back in 1993, they gained a white shirt and a few extra dollars but lost their right overtime and a raft of conditions, including one week of annual leave. Nearly all of those members have long since retired. The State Committee believes a drop of $6.71 per week (ie $350 per year) to secure the return of that week’s extra leave (bringing Executive Officers up from 4 to 5 weeks per year in line with all other members) is fair deal. That being said, if the Department agrees to concede the leave and maintain the current rates then we’ll happily go with that too, in which case the long term % increase for Superintendent members would revert to 70.9% (ie, in line with Senior Firefighter members). 


If all of this looks to you like some sort of socialist exercise in evening up the wealth, then you’re probably right. It’s still not perfect (and probably never will be), but the Union’s officials believe that this new rank/wage proposal is a much better deal – and certainly far more equitable – than a flat % increase across all ranks. That being said, the final decision won’t be made by the State Committee but rather by you, the Union’s members.

Chris Read

State Secretary



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