Award dispute update #12
May 5, 2004
The letter below was faxed to the Department today. Commissioner Mullins did not reply as requested by 4pm, but has since advised that he should be in a position to do so by tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon.
The State Committee, which did meet this afternoon, has resolved to maintain the Union’s bans at their current level pending the Commissioner’s response.
Commissioner Mullins wrote to all firefighters last Saturday with his version of “the facts” and “the detail” of this dispute. In between twisting the truth, getting it plain wrong re the arbitration process and pouring scorn on your Union’s officials, the Commissioner said:
“I genuinely wish to see all current and recently retired officers and firefighters receive well deserved pay increases NOW, not in 2 years time, and I am not at all pleased about the possibility that the outcome of the Union’s proposed Special Case may not be backdated.”
We agree, which explains our proposal for an interim 4% increase and agreement to backdate the arbitrated awards. There’s nothing in law to prevent this happening, which in turn begs the question: why are they telling us NO?
Wednesday 5th May, 2004
5 May 2004
Mr. Greg Mullins
New South Wales Fire Brigades
PO Box A249
Sydney South NSW 1232
I write following yesterday’s proceedings before the Industrial Relations Commission, during which the Department confirmed its rejection of the Union’s proposal for an interim wage increase pending the outcome of the Special Case and the Commission recommended that the Union lift its bans.
The Union is of course disappointed that the Commission did not see fit to press the Department further on its earlier suggestion that the Union’s proposal held merit. That disappointment does not, however, translate to an acceptance of the Department’s decision to reject the Union’s approach, which in turn raises the question of the current bans.
Put simply, the Union will lift its bans when the Department agrees to lift its own bans against the Union’s members.
What bans, you ask? The financial bans you have imposed upon each and every firefighter by reneging on your previous undertaking of 27 February to backdate the new award’s first wage increase to the first pay period to occur on or after 24 February 2004.
The Department, in conjunction with the Public Employment Office, is holding an economic gun to its employees’ heads simply because the Union has opted to exercise its right to pursue its claims through an arbitrated Special Case. To put that on a more personal level, your Clayton’s choice of back pay if we accept your 4% + 3% offer, or no back pay if we take the matter to arbitration is currently costing each firefighter (depending on rank) between $30 and $78 per week. Each Station Officer now faces the loss of more than $2,500 if they, through their Union, do not succumb to the Department’s threat.
The Department and Public Employment Office will doubtless try to dress this up as some sort of legitimate tactic on the employer’s part, but in truth it is no more than industrial blackmail. It flies in the face of your oft-stated support for a well-deserved pay increase for firefighters, and contradicts the Government’s own wages policy which purports to be based on the principle of real wage maintenance. The Government has already consented to an interim wage increase for teachers pending a final decision on their Special Case, so why is a different approach now being taken to firefighters? Our employer’s inconsistency is only compounded when you consider that unlike firefighters (whose awards have long-since now expired), teachers received their interim increase before the end of their last award’s term.
I refer again to your letter of 27 February, and quote in particular the following tract:
“I have forwarded your letter to the Public Employment Office, Premier’s Department, and following discussions with those officials, I can confirm the NSW Fire Brigades’ ((NSWFB) agreement to the following:
- The 2004 Award will take effect on and from the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 24 February 2004.
- The Award will contain two wage instalments, with the first one taking effect from the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 24 February 2004, and the second instalment to take effect from the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 24 February 2005.
- The Award will remain in force for two years, with an expiry date of 23 February 2006.
The Union notes that your agreement to back date the first wage increase was not conditional on a negotiated outcome and/or a consent award. However, during yesterday’s IRC proceedings the Union understood counsel for the employer to have advised the Commission that the above agreement to back pay was “part of the 4% plus 3% package”, and that it would therefore necessarily be rendered void if the Union pressed ahead with its Special Case.
Consistent with your stated position of 27 February, and in view of the pending arbitration of the awards, the Union seeks your confirmation that the Department will support the Union’s submissions that the arbitrated permanent Award should take effect on and from the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 24 February 2004 and further, that the first wage increase under that Award should take effect from the beginning of the first pay period to commence on or after 24 February 2004. Similarly, the Union seeks your confirmation that the Department will support the Union’s submissions that the arbitrated retained Award should take effect on and from 1 April 2004 and further, that the first wage increase under that Award should take effect on and from that same date.
Further, the Union seeks your confirmation that in the unlikely event that these common positions of the employer and Union are not reflected in the IRC’s final determination, then the Department will apply the IRC’s first awarded increases back to the above dates by way of administrative action.
Of course the above undertakings would not be necessary if the Union’s proposed interim wage increase – being the position I genuinely consider to be in the best long-term interests of both parties – could be reconsidered and accepted by the Department and Public Employment Office.
The Union’s State Committee is meeting at 4pm this afternoon to review this dispute and your written response prior would therefore be both helpful, and appreciated.