April update – including Award update #10

April 16, 2004

Inside this notice:

  • Award negotiations #10
  • Public Safety Training Package mothballed
  • Retained pays bungled
  • Members’ pay slip rights enforced
  • Member-initiated SGM agenda items
  • Statutory Declaration dispute
  • Outduties in Regional/Country Transfer Areas
  • Interest-free loans for Bus/Train/Ferry tickets
  • May Day 2004

Award dispute update #10

Awards to be arbitrated after negotiations fail

Concerted negotiations over the last fortnight concluded when the Union’s officials forwarded our final position to the Department on Wednesday morning. Management is yet to formally respond, but we know that their answer will be no if/when they finally do.

The Union and Department appeared before the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) on Wednesday afternoon over the Union’s application for a new permanent award, and again yesterday morning over our application for a new retained award. The Union argued that after 8 months with no agreement, negotiations had clearly reached an end and that both matters should therefore be referred to a Full Bench of the Commission for arbitration as a Special Case. And that is exactly what will now happen.

The current permanent Award expired on 23 February, and the retained Award on 31 March. In both instances the Union filed and served applications the following day for new Awards providing wage increases of 10% over one year. With both Awards now heading to arbitration, the Union’s State Committee will now review and submit revised (and expanded) applications within 14 days, following which the IRC will schedule a conference to determine the future conduct of both matters. More (much more) to follow.

Public Safety Training Package mothballed

When the Department wrote back in December and January to S/O members’ home addresses detailing their expanded roles and responsibilities under the new Public Safety Training Package (PSTP), a literal tidal wave of protests to the Union followed. That in turn led to repeated protests by the Union to the Department. Our objections were not simply about the expanded workload of S/O members either. The PSTP clearly places a significantly increased burden on every member seeking promotion, whilst at the same time delivering marked increases in as-yet unrecognised productivity to the employer through artificial PIP quotas and like duties.

As is often the case, our repeated attempts at civil negotiation led nowhere and it was only yesterday, when we threatened the Department with a deadline of 5pm or industrial action, that your employer took your elected reps seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a notice was faxed yesterday afternoon to all S/O’s to confirm that the first two PSTP units have been “immediately put on hold pending further consultation and agreement with the FBEU”.

The Award is repeatedly clear in that any change to the current system of competency based training and assessment can only come about with the Union’s agreement. There is no agreement for the introduction of the PSTP, either in whole or in part, and the Department will therefore be obliged to leave it on ice until such time as the Union agrees otherwise.

Retained pays bungled

The infamous “Stargarden” payroll system struck yet again last month – this time claiming every retained firefighter in the state. Put simply, the Department failed to take out any tax and as a result, every one of the Brigades’ 3,300 retained firefighters was overpaid last month. An interest-free loan from the boss, or just another Stargarden bungle? The truth is that it’s probably both.

Whilst the Department can (and will) recover these overpayments, members should be aware that unless you specifically agree otherwise, then the Award provides that overpayments can only be recovered at the rate of 10% of your gross monthly pay. The Department was expected to have by now written directly to every retained firefighter to give you the option of re-paying this overpayment in one lump sum, or keeping to the award’s 10% limit. If you don’t reply then the 10% option will be assumed, and it will take 7 or 8 pays/months (depending on fluctuations in each individual’s monthly pay) for the Department to recover the full amount.

The Union has received an assurance from the Department that it will cover this tax shortfall with the ATO, in which case members’ Group Certificates and tax balances should not be adversely affected. Members seeking further detail can refer to the Retained Award’s full provisions concerning overpayments at subclause 6.10.

Members’ pay slip rights enforced

The Union recently warned the Department that it was in breach of the Industrial Relations Act 1996, which requires employers to provide written particulars regarding their payment, including their classification. Previously, all that appeared on most members’ pay slips was “FF”, whereas the IR Act requires employers to specify the actual award classification of the employee. There were numerous reasons for us to enforce this entitlement, not least being so that every member can be sure they are being paid at their correct rank and Award rate.

As a result of the Union’s intervention, the last pay slips for most permanent members showed for the first time the rank at which you were paid. For example, instead of simply showing “FF”, permanent payslips now show “FF LV3”, or “SEN FF”, “INSP”, etc.

Arrangements are now being made to reprogram StarGarden so that the different S/O, Chief Supt and Op Support Levels are also shown, as will all retained classifications – “RFB” (retained firefighter on B retainer), “DEPTCB”, “CAPTA”, etc. We’ve been assured that those adjustments will be completed “within a month, subject to any programming problems”.

Member-initiated SGM agenda items

Two separate items have been received from members for placement on the next SGM’s agenda. The first item is a petition calling for the establishment of a Station Officers’ Sub-Branch. The second item is a motion calling for the rescission of the resolution previously adopted at the 2002 AGM which called for amendments to Clause 28 of the Award (Transfer Registers). Further commentary on both motions will be circulated, together with the State Committee’s recommendations, in the forthcoming notice and agenda for the next SGM.

Statutory Declarations dispute

In Orders 2004/6 contained a policy on statutory declarations wherein the Department has asserted that members may only submit Stat Decs in accordance with the NSW Oaths Act 1900. The In Order went further to assert that NSWFB employees may not submit Stat Decs in accordance with the Commonwealth’s Statutory Declarations Act 1959.

So what’s all that about, you ask?

The Union and Department have been wrangling behind the scenes for several months now over this issue, with both parties seeking independent legal advice on the standing of the respective State and Commonwealth Acts. The root cause of this dispute is the Award provision whereby members may access Personal Carer’s Leave through the submission of a medical certificate or a statutory declaration. The Department fears a rush on Personal Carer’s Leave if members are allowed to submit State Decs made under the Commonwealth Statutory Declarations Act 1959. Why? Because unlike the NSW Act, declarations made under the Commonwealth Act do not need to be witnessed by a solicitor or a JP. In fact declarations made under the Commonwealth Act can be witnessed by any public servant with more than 5 years’ service – including another firefighter on your shift.

Management’s crass bottom line is to hope that if they make it harder for you by having to find a soilcitor or JP then you won’t be able to access your Award rights. Tough. The Award does not state which type of statutory declaration was required, and the last time we checked, NSW and its firefighters were still within the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Union (and its legal counsel) contends that members may submit a statutory declaration for any matter (including in support of Personal Carer’s Leave) using either the NSW Oaths Act 1900 OR the Commonwealth Statutory Declarations Act 1959. And your employer (and its legal advisers) say that you cannot – which explains in no small part why there are judges and courts. The Union will now be listing this matter as a dispute in the IRC, the outcome of which will be reported to members as soon as the Commission hands down its decision.

Outduties in Regional/Country Transfer Areas

Relieving bans by Newcastle Sub-Branch members were recently implemented after a dispute erupted over the use of GSA based firefighters on outduties into N3 and adjoining country areas. The negotiations between the Union and Department which followed resulted in agreement on the following guidelines, which are now in force:

1. Employees may perform voluntary outduties outside of their fire district into Regional and Country Transfer Register areas.

2. In Regional Transfer Register areas (as per 28.2.2 of the Award), each opportunity to perform an outduty in that area shall be offered first to the highest placed employee holding residential status on the Register who is on the same platoon as the ‘vacancy’. Should they decline, then it shall be offered to the next highest placed employee on the Register holding residential status and who is currently on that platoon, until such time as the temporary vacancy in question has been filled.

3. In Country Transfer Register areas (as per 28.2.1 of the Award), each opportunity to perform an outduty in that area shall be offered first to the highest placed employee holding residential status, regardless of their current platoon or roster. Should they decline, then it shall be offered in turn to the next highest placed employee on the Register holding residential status, until such time as the temporary vacancy is filled.

4. In the unlikely event that there is no member on a Country Register holding residential status, the outduties shall be offered to all employees on that Register in an equitable manner (ie, they will be shared as evenly as possible amongst all such employees).

Interest-free loans for Bus/Train/Ferry tickets

The Department will soon be offering to buy periodical tickets for Bus, Train and Ferry services for all NSWFB employees – but we suggest you read on before getting too excited.

If a member wishes to purchase a periodical ticket, the Department will give them a cheque for the relevant amount, and the member will reimburse the Department that amount over the next 26 pay periods (ie, one year). It’s basically an interest-free loan for those members who regularly use public transport.

This is a public-sector wide initiative from the Premier’s Department for all NSW Government employees to use what’s left of our public transport system. If you are interested then further details are expected to appear on the Brigades’ intranet shortly.

May Day 2004

A quick reminder that this year’s May Day celebrations will (for once) actually be held on May Day, Saturday 1 May. Members attending should meet at the Union office at 1030 hrs.


Chris Read

State Secretary

Friday 16th April, 2004




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