Dispute update: correspondence #2
May 10, 2004
Union to Department, Monday 10 May
10 May 2004
Mr. Greg Mullins
New South Wales Fire Brigades
PO Box A249
Sydney South NSW 1232
I write in response to your letter of 7 May, and note that the Commission’s judgment in Crown Employees (Teachers in Schools and TAFE and Related Employees) Salaries and Conditions Award, Re  NSWIRComm 479 dated 19 December 2003 makes it clear that the Government did in fact support the application for an interim wage increase pending the final determination of that Special Case:
“The respondents support the objective of having a new two year award in place by 1 January 2004 and it is recognised by them that as the case may not be completed this year the Commission may determine an interim increase.” (paragraph 27(2))
In deciding to award an interim wage increase, the Commission’s judgment goes on to note that“A further important consideration is that the respondents and the Minister accept that special circumstances exist and that the Full Bench could award an interim increase from 1 January 2004…..” (paragraph 37)
In response to your other observations, the Union again rejects the suggestion that your agreement of 27 February 2004 regarding the backdating of wage increases was somehow conditional upon the parties entering into a Consent Award. Such a condition was neither stated or implied.
The Union also rejects your suggestion that it has withdrawn from any further discussions on a Consent Award. On the contrary, it was the Department that terminated negotiations through its continued inability to discuss (let alone negotiate) any wage increase beyond your 4% and 3% offer. Please advise if your instructions or negotiating parameters on quantum have changed.
The Union considers that an agreed interim wage increase of 4% paid from the expiration of the current Awards is the only fair and equitable resolution to this current dispute. I advise that the Union will escalate its current bans and limitations from 1800 hours tomorrow, Tuesday 11 May, in the absence of agreement to this reasonable proposition.
Department to Union, Friday 7 May
7 May 2004
Mr Chris Read
NSW Fire Brigade Employees’ Union
267 Sussex Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Dear Mr Read
I write in response to your letter dated 5 May 2004 in relation to the effective dates for the commencement of the Permanent and Retained Firefighters Awards and consequent wage increases.
The letter asserts that the dispute is the result of the Government and NSWFB having reneged on a previous undertaking of 27 February 2004 to backdate the new awards. This is clearly not the case. I reiterate that the NSWFB wage increase offer, outlined in my letter of 28 April 2004, has not been withdrawn and is still available. This is a wage increase of 4% in year 1 and a further wage increase of 3% in year 2. The additional 1% in year 1 has been offered by the NSWFB to recognise productivity improvements that have been implemented as well as agreed initiatives documented between the parties. The NSWFB is prepared to re-commence negotiations at the point where discussions, which appeared to be close to finality, broke down. I need not remind you that it was the decision of the FBEU to terminate discussions on the consent Award and not one of the NSWFB. A return to discussions and a consent position between the parties would ensure effective dates for the commencement of the Awards and associated wage increases consistent with the terms of our 27 February 2004 letter (which related to the Permanent Firefighters Award) as follows:
- The 2004 Award would 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.
This consent position between the parties would enable the Retained Firefighters Award to be dealt with in a similar manner.
In relation to the FBEU’s letter date 5 May 2004, the matter has been reviewed and was discussed with senior Government officials including the Public Employment Office, Treasury and Premier’s Department. In response to your request, I advise the following:
- The offer for the dates of commencement of the Permanent Award and effective wage increases, as outlined in my letter dated 27 February 2004, was based on the NSWFB and FBEU agreeing to a Consent Award.
- Given that the FBEU withdrew from discussions on a Consent Award, and has made an application for the matter to be heard by a Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission as a Special Case, the decision in relation to wage increases, and their effective dates, will be subject to arbitral proceedings. Should the Award applications be ultimately determined by way of such proceedings, the operative dates for any wage increase or increases will be determined by the Industrial Relations Commission. As you have highlighted, such proceedings will take many months and there is no guarantee that the Industrial Relations Commission will decide to backdate any increases awarded.
- The suggestion that the NSWFB support the FBEU claim for backdating increases, or apply increases by administrative action, would set a precedent in the public sector which is beyond my authority. It also should be understood that the NSWFB’s offer was based upon the budgetary capacity to fund increases of 4% and 3% over 2 years. It has been noted that the FBEU’s preliminary claim before the Industrial Relations Commission is for 10% in year 1. It is unknown what the Industrial Relations Commission may eventually award. I am unable to commit the NSWFB, and the Government will not authorise agreement, to a position which may not be able to be funded.
- Your letter incorrectly claims that the Government consented to an interim wage increase for teachers pending a final decision on their Special Case. An interim award was made by the Industrial Relations Commission. It is not a matter to which the Government gave consent, but was part of an arbitrated decision, following hearings that included evidence and submissions made by the parties.
- The NSW Government’s approach in relation to the FBEU’s wage claim is consistent with its approach in considering other public sector wage claims.
It is disappointing to note that the industrial bans imposed by the FBEU on 30 April 2004 are still in place. I note the recommendation made by Mr Deputy President Grayson of the Industrial Relations Commission on 4 May 2004 that the FBEU’s State Committee of Management reconsider its position with a view to lifting all bans and limitations. While I acknowledge that it is the FBEU’s right and prerogative to pursue a Special Case, I urge the FBEU to lift the said bans and limitations immediately and avoid implementing any other bans, to clear the way for both parties to re-commence discussions. Given that we were so close to achieving agreement, an immediate resumption may provide us the opportunity to deliver wage increases to Firefighters in a timely manner via a consent Award.
I know that you understand the difficult position that both the NSWFB and FBEU find ourselves in. The Union’s request regarding an interim increase, or alternatively, guaranteed backpaying of an increase, are quite clearly beyond my authority to grant, as well as being a departure from how the Government has dealt with other Unions. This is neither a contrivance, nor, as you have variously suggested, “financial bans”, “inconsistency”, or an attempt to pressure the Union. I note the FBEU’s own threats regarding an escalation of industrial action, but sincerely hope that the parties can return to the negotiating table.
Greg Mullins AFSM