Award negotiations update #4

November 29, 2003

Inside this notice:

  • Relievers and Out-duties
  • Sick Leave
  • 38 hr leave flexibility
  • The rough end of the pineapple

Relievers and Out-duties

Complaints have come thick and fast about the possibility of there being little or no overtime in future. Whilst that’s understandable, the fact is that the Union has never had any guarantee for, or control over, the number of relieving firefighters in the system. We can’t (nor would we want to) stop the Department from employing extra firefighters to reduce the numbers of relievers required, or the amount of overtime worked. It follows that we expect that the Department will employ those 100-plus extra firefighters whether it’s agreed to within the scope of these Award negotiations or not. And it will be done for one reason and one reason alone – to cut overtime.

I should also be clear on this – it was the Department, not the Union, which proposed the abolition of the firefighters’ relieving corps. A lot of the angst on this issue has come from the misunderstanding that the Union’s officials had agreed to unlimited out-duties. For the record (and I’d invite the sceptics to check the original notice), this is what I wrote in the Union notice of 26 October:

It’s expected that the combination of this in-built relief component and (limited) out-duties would allow most vacancies, both scheduled (eg, annuals) and otherwise (eg, sick leave) to be covered.

The Department originally sought no limit on out-duties, but has since proposed a maximum of 16 per year. The Union has continued to stand by the existing limit of 8.

The Department is proposing to keep (and slightly expand) the number of relieving Station Officers and Inspectors, although it does want to remove the payment of the relieving allowance for R/O’s whilst at their base-station. The Union’s officials remain concerned that overtime could be wiped out for only one section of the membership – firefighters. Could anyone seriously argue that it would be fair or appropriate to deny our lowest paid members overtime whilst at the same time maintaining uninterrupted overtime for officers? The State Committee will reject any measure concerning overtime that does not impact evenly, across all ranks.

Many members have argued that acting-up will eventually lead to the erosion, and perhaps even the demise of the Station Officer rank. The State Committee was equally concerned that the Department might in future simply rely on LF’s acting-up all the time, which is why we proposed to abolish the rank of SO Level 1 in favour of one new rank of Station Officer. If LF’s did act-up to SO and we didn’t get rid of SO1, then there would be a financial advantage to the Department in relying on LF act-ups. However, with only one Station Officer rank there would be no financial advantage to the Department because any LF who did act-up would then be paid at that (higher) rate whilst doing so. The bottom line is that by abolishing SO1 we would ensure that there was nothing for the Department in cutting SO numbers.

Moving along, the other major points of discussion between the parties have been the Commissioner’s offer to free up 38 hour leave and the Department’s drive for a new sick leave regime, both of which he referred to in his GroupWise of 12 November.

Sick Leave

The Department is proposing a heavily revised sick leave system whereby senior officers would conduct informal and formal interviews of members who exceeded 72 and/or 96 hours of sick leave per year, eventually leading to formal disciplinary action. “Offending” members could also be forced to report to the BMO at any stage. Whilst the Department has offered to go to five non-MC days per calendar year, it also seeks to extend the ban on non-MC’s to all weekends as well as public holidays.

 The Union has countered with a new system whereby members would be able to access up to 72 hours per year of their sick leave without any supporting MC. If, however, a member exceeded the 72 hour per year limit then they would then be required to be submit an MC for every future sick leave absence (much as we are now) until such time as your annual sick leave total fell back below the 72 hour threshold. The Union is also rejecting the need for a diagnosis. That’s it – simple. It follows that the Union and Department remain a long way apart on sick leave.

 38 Hour Leave Flexibility

 The Commissioner’s offer to “free up the 38 hour week leave” has now been fully explored, and both parties agreed that fiddling around with A/L groups and existing entitlements was fraught with danger (they’re very finely balanced). The Union has, however, put forward another option for some improved leave flexibility.

As it currently stands, there are two A/L Groups in every 64 week cycle. Your first A/L Group starts on a Friday night after you’ve worked two day shifts, and you return in the middle of your days off. In other words, when you do come back you do so to a full set of shifts. On the other hand, your second leave Group starts on your days off, but returns you to work on a Friday and Saturday night shift.  Members have long complained about this requirement to remain/return to work for only two shifts either before/following their Annual Leave.

 The Union has now proposed that members be given the option of actually working those two shifts (ie, the first Fri and Sat night for the first Group, or the last Wed and Thurs day for the second Group) in return for a credit in their consolidated leave. In other words, you would get a credit of 28 hours consolidated leave for working those two extra nights in the first Group, and 20 hours for the working the two extra days in the second Group You could choose to do this for one Group but not the other, or you could stick with your full A/L and do neither – the choice would remain entirely with the individual member. It follows that over the full 64 week cycle, you could stick with your current annual entitlement of 23.25 hours of consolidated leave, or you accrue either an extra 28 or 48 hours (ie, 71.25 hours in total).

The Union’s proposal does not of course result in any extra leave, but it does give you the option of taking at least some of your existing leave in a more flexible way.

The rough end of the pineapple

It appears that I may have upset a few members with my comments in update #3 about pineapples and rank insignia. If the less than serious candour of my analogy avoided you, then I apologise. That being said, I’m also going have a shot back here because the abuse heaped on the Union’s officials (and myself in particular) from a vocal minority over recent weeks has been well and truly out of order.

My personal favourite came from the member who last week climbed on board the bosses’ GroupWise email system to lecture us all about “leadership”, and the “arrogance” (amongst other slurs) of the State Committee’s proposal. It’s clearly a fine line where leadership cuts out and arrogance cuts in. Perhaps he’d prefer if the State Committee did nothing? That same member then went on to say that “if the current union secretary is stupid or arrogant enough to fly this proposal without consultation, then he should be prepared to accept the appropriate level of criticism in response”.

Without consultation? This is update #4. Back in update #2 on 7 November I wrote “before anyone gets too excited, it’s still up for discussion and open to your input”. That was true then, and it remains true today. It’s why we’ve been circulating these notices for the last 8 weeks, and it’s why we’re going to the members to get your views

 These are only ideas, comrades – no more and no less. It’s what you elect a State Committee to do, but it’s also why we hold General Meetings. If the State Committee has got it wrong, then the membership will put us right. In the interim, is it really too much to ask that we stop kicking goals against each other while the bosses laugh their heads off from the sidelines? It isn’t just a cliché, comrades: Stay United!

 Chris Read

State Secretary



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