January update, inc Award update #5

January 23, 2004

Inside this notice:

  • Award Negotiations Update #5
  • Retirements and the new Award
  • S/O shortages and LF act-ups
  • First of $23M in D&D payments made today
  • Cancelling SASS Additional Benefit Cover (ABC)
  • Health and Fitness
  • Verballing the Union
  • SOPP Pre-Entry Test debacle
  • Making personal telephone calls from stations
  • More garbage from the Department

Award Negotiations Update #5

The Union’s State Committee met last Friday, 16 January, to review our Union’s negotiating position following the feedback received from members prior, during and following last month’s Union AGM. The outcome of those day-long deliberations can best be summarised here by confirming that the proposal for a rank restructure has now been effectively shelved. The State Committee will again meet next Friday, 30 January, following which the SCOM’s revised award proposals will be circulated to members in advance of a Special General Meeting which will be held to endorse or reject same in the first weeks of February.

Retirements and the new Award

A quick reminder to members who are contemplating submitting their notice of retirement over the next month or so – don’t (well not just yet, anyway). Your retirement benefits will be determined by your final salary, and with a new Award pending a retirement only a day too early could end up costing you literally $1000’s. It’s more than likely that the earliest date upon which a permanent member will be able retire with the benefit of the first wage increase from the new Award will be Friday 5 March, but to err on the safe side we encourage any member who is contemplating retirement to check with the Union office first.

S/O shortages and LF act-ups

It’s come to our attention that on numerous occasions over the last fortnight (including today’s “D” Platoon day shift), Leading Firefighters who are yet to complete the SOPP have been directed to act-up to fill Station Officer vacancies within the GSA. All of these act-ups were apparently due to the inability of management to find any off-duty Station Officers who were willing and/or available to perform a recall.

The Union’s position on this matter is threefold:

1. Leading Firefighters who have not successfully completed the SOPP are not qualified to act-up to Station Officer, and it is a breach of Clause 7 of the Award to do so;

2. The short term solution is to recall a Station Officer from the next oncoming Platoon to work one shift early, and to continue to work overtime until off-duty S/O’s do become available for recall and/or that Station’s S/O’s can return to normal rostering. The Department has rejected this approach, confirming yet that the employer’s “duty of care” goes out the window as soon as money enters the equation; and

3. The long term solution is obvious – make more S/O’s!

First of $23M in D&D payments made today

It’s taken many months of detailed negotiations over Trust Deeds, claims forms and the like, but the first of 100’s of outstanding D&D payments were finally made today.

The Union’s success in arguing for retrospective cover back to February 1997 means that the first four cheques, each for $250,000, were today drawn and posted to the families of permanent and retained members who had died (off-duty) since that date. That $1M is the first of almost $23M in outstanding D&D benefits which have accrued between 1997 and 1 July 2003, with the remaining $22M in payments to be made over the coming weeks.

Many of the recipients had never even heard of our D&D dispute, let alone known that they were entitled to large lump-sum payments and (in the case of death or TPI on-duty) indexed pensions for life. Needless to say that they have all been happily surprised by – and appreciative of – the Union’s efforts in fighting for and securing the new D&D Award.

Cancelling SASS Additional Benefit Cover (ABC)

For the 600 or so permanent members in SASS who elected to drop your ABC in favour of full D&D cover, the initial confusion as to who was supposed to tell SASS has been resolved. Put simply, we argued it was the Department’s responsibility and the Department argued it was yours. We eventually won, so SASS has now been advised of your election and (hopefully) adjusted both their records and your account. It follows that you needn’t do anything more than check your next SASS statement to be sure.

Health and Fitness

The Department recently commenced group “information sessions” for stations throughout the GSA to outline its plans for a new health and fitness regime for firefighters. A feature of the Department’s plans is that it should be a “mandatory, but non-punitive” program – which apparently means that whilst it will be compulsory for every firefighter to participate, no action will taken against you if you don’t. Weird.

We are not opposed to a positive, supportive, well-resourced and relevant health and fitness regime – and who seriously could be? However, it is a complex issue with many implications for both the employer and our members, and as such can be expected to take considerable time and effort from both parties before agreement is reached.

The bottom line for now is that we can’t stop the Department from talking to its employees, but we can tell you that nothing has yet been agreed, and that nothing will happen without our Union’s agreement. Negotiations will commence next month.

Verballing the Union

You know that management’s playing politics on a controversial issue when it starts a message/memo to members with “following representation from the FBEU”. This happened in one Zone last week, and again in a letter to a member rescinding his recent promotion (see “SOPP Pre-Entry Test debacle”) which commenced with the words “After consultation with the FBEU and careful deliberation it is with regret that …..”. Of course the Union did not agree with the Department, contrary to the obvious inference that we did.

Whether or not we’re seeing a new tactic of deliberately verballing the Union, or if these two instances are simply coincidental, is not yet clear. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that they won’t be opening their letters to the spouses of deceased former members with the words “As a result of a successful campaign by the FBEU, please find attached a cheque for $250,000”.

When questioned by members, management often now responds with overt lies along the lines of “oh, the Union has agreed to that”. The truth is that in most cases we’ve not only not agreed to whatever it is that is in question, we haven’t even been told about it! If in future any member wants to know whether or not the Union has agreed to something, then ask a Union official.

SOPP Pre-Entry Test debacle

The latest Pre Entry Test held last November has again ended in controversy. One member not only received written confirmation that he’d secured a spot on the 2004 SOPP, but he also then had his promotion to Leading Firefighter confirmed in In Orders. He then received another letter two weeks later (on Xmas Eve, no less) to say that they were sorry, but they’d made a bit of a mistake and he wouldn’t be on the SOPP after all.

Several more members were directly disadvantaged because they believed the Department’s original advice that there would only be 36 places on the 2004 SOPP. The final figure, which the Department did not confirm until the morning of the Test itself, was in fact 60. Had members known in advance (as the Award requires) that there would be 60 places, not 36, then many would have carried over their previous marks and as a result would today be Leading Firefighters waiting to start the SOPP.

The new promotional system is stressful enough even when management does get it right. But because they got it wrong (again), the Union’s State Committee has resolved to support these members and pursue their promotion to LF and entry into this year’s SOPP. It’s our view that those promotions should be in addition to, not in lieu of, the 60 other members whose positions on the 2004 have already been confirmed. More to follow.

Arranging external examinations / assessments

Since 2000, Clause 19 of the Award has required the Department to organise promotional examinations/assessments on the employer’s time, not yours. If management hasn’t been able to do that “within two months from the date the employee makes application for assessment, the employee may make arrangements to sit the examination/assessment externally” (see 19.2). And if that happens you’re then entitled to payment under Clause 16, which includes the option “to either be paid at overtime rates or be credited with consolidated leave calculated at overtime rates for the hours spent attending the course”.

Several members have come unstuck (ie they haven’t been entitled to any payment) because they arranged their own examination/assessment before the Department’s 2 month time limit (which starts from the date of your application to sit) expired. As always, members are invited to contact the Union office for advice before making your own arrangements for external assessment.

Making personal telephone calls from stations

In what is becoming a cyclical trend every 5 or so years, management is again running its ruler over each Station’s telephone bill and demanding that members foot the bill for any so-called “excessive” calls.

We recently attempted to broker a common sense agreement with the Department on this issue, but the fact that word is now reaching us that they’re after members for lousy $2 calls indicates that we failed. Not surprising, really – common sense has never been a management strong point.

Members are advised to refuse to make any payment towards any telephone calls made from the station until you have spoken with a Union official. In most cases we will advise (and happily tell management) that you should not pay. However, there is a limit to what’s reasonable, and if you clearly over-step it (eg, repeated long-distance/mobile calls, or timed calls of an extended duration) then you’ll more than likely be advised to pay.

Management might be short on common sense, but our members aren’t. The Union will defend every member’s right to use the station phone for personal reasons, including long-distance and (if necessary) mobile calls. Just try to be reasonable if and when you do.

More garbage from the Department

When council this week told the Department it would have to arrange for commercial garbage collection for No’s 3, 4 and 38 stations, Region South directed 21’s truckie to pick up the rubbish from those stations and deliver it all to No. 1 Stn. When the members at 21 queried that, management suggested loading up the pumpers instead. We might still be cleaners (for now), but we’re not garbos and members shouldn’t be freighting their rubbish around the CBD or anywhere else. Members are advised to leave the rubbish where it is. If it’s not gone by next week then the Union will arrange for it to be picked up and dumped at Region South office. No prizes for guessing how long it would be allowed to remain there.

Chris Read

State Secretary

Friday 23rd January, 2004



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