General update

July 16, 2004

Inside this issue:

  • Bans imminent over recycled water
  • Special Case update
  • Z & J Relieving – new arrangements in place
  • Dispute over 13’s aerial heats up
  • Long Service Leave 1: Quotas
  • Long Service Leave 2: Pre-’85 Retained service
  • PSTP Dispute update
  • Electronic Self Service
  • Health and Fitness 1: Swiss Balls
  • Health and Fitness 2: Quit Smoking Program
  • WTO: “from inequitable to inhuman”

Bans imminent over recycled water

Back on 26 October 2003 it was reported that the State Committee had “resolved to ban the use by FBEU members of recycled water (ie, effluent) in both firefighting and drill situations. Only to protect life – and then only as a last resort – should members even consider using water from these recycled reticulation systems.”

That notice continued:

“The Union’s ban will remain in place until such time as we can be assured that there will be no increased risk to firefighters, other members of the community or the environment in using recycled water for firefighting when compared to the present usage of reticulated potable (drinking quality) water. Further, we’ll also expect the use of this recycled water for firefighting to be aligned with other permissable uses. In other words, if Sydney Water continues to advise the broader community that they shouldn’t bathe, swim in or shower with this recycled water, then neither they nor the Department have any reason to expect that this Union’s members will be OK with the idea of firefighting with it.”

Nothing has happened since to change our opposition to the Department’s expectation that firefighters should work with – and cover themselves in – other peoples’ sewerage.

Last Friday, the Department ignored the Union’s repeated warnings and published In Orders 2004/14 – Operational Water Use Policy. For those who think the State Committee may be over-reacting, check the Department’s own extensive list of “safety precautions” when using recycled water, which includes warnings to members to:

  • Employ safe working practices commensurate with the hazards faced, eg ~ use personal protective equipment and wash hands prior to eating.
  • Avoid excessive contact with recycled water by wearing appropriate PPE.
  • Cover open wounds with a waterproof dressing when working with recycled water.

The Department is not alone in its caution. The current “NSW GUIDELINES FOR URBAN AND RESIDENTIAL USE OF RECLAIMED WATER” directs (in part) that:

The use of reclaimed water will not be permitted for the following purposes:

• Drinking, cooking or kitchen purposes

• Bath, showers, handbasins or personal washing

• Clothes washing

• Swimming pools

• Water contact recreation (e.g. playing under sprinklers), and

• Irrigation of crops for human consumption which are neither processed or cooked

After having sat idle on the issue for almost 12 months, it appears the Department is now attempting to ram through its recycled water policy on the back of Sydney’s growing water shortage crisis. Drought or no drought, the Union will not allow its members to be used by Sartor and the Carr Government as water conservation guinea pigs. More to follow shortly.

Special Case update

A Case Conference for our Special Case application was held on 21 June, chaired by the IRC’s Justice Boland and attended by both the Union and Department. The Union sought to reserve 10 hearing days, and indicated we may call up to 20 witnesses. Justice Boland indicated that there were no hearing dates available before November/December 2004, and that if more than10 days were needed then the case would almost certainly run into next year. The Conference was adjourned until 6 August.

Z & J Relievers – new arrangements in place

The Union and the Department recently codified the operation of so-called ‘Z’ and ‘J’ relievers. (Z relievers are designated members who relieve across 4 platoons, whilst J relievers relieve across 2 platoons). In reaching this agreement, it was reaffirmed that normal relieving arrangements involve a reliever being attached to one platoon only and further, that Z & J arrangements are the exception and can only be use in nominated specialised work locations (eg. Operational Communications) and agreed country centres.

To emphasise the exceptional nature of such arrangements, an agreed schedule was developed of current Z/J relieving positions and where they may be implemented in the future. No other Z or J positions can be created without the Union’s agreement. This Schedule is available upon request from the Union Office and consists of the existing positions at the Central Coast, Katoomba, various country centres, various Comms Centres & FIRU. Proposed and potential positions are located in the Central Coast (Z Inspector) and various country centres (Z Station Officers).

It was further agreed that all J/Z relieving staff will now be provided with notice of future working patterns by way of a roster scheduled at least 64 weeks in advance. J/Z relievers will be rostered to work on one platoon for a minimum period of 28 days prior to changing platoons under the roster. The roster will specify both the platoon and location to which the employee will be assigned .

Departures may be made from a J/Z reliever’s roster, giving 8 days notice, when arrangements need to be made to cover unexpected changes to annual leave and long service leave arrangements at the stations specified as being covered for each position. Under such circumstances, the minimum period that such relievers can serve on any one platoon is 8 days (being the minimum period for taking long service).

Where a J/Z reliever is required to depart from their roster (ie. work at a different location or on a different platoon to that indicated in their roster), they will be paid a 25% loading on top of the relieving allowance for the period of the departure from that roster.

This agreement between the Department and the Union not only led to an increased allowance and more certainty for Z & J men. Part of the deal was the abolition of the 5 km limit in Clause 12.7 of the Award. Under the new Award all kms are paid, regardless of the distance between your base station and the relief/out-duty station. Members are advised to contact the Union’s Senior Industrial Officer, Michael Wright, for further advice.

Dispute over 13’s aerial heats up

We reported back in October last year that the Department had signalled its intention to remove 13’s aerial appliance and crews, and that the Union had signalled industrial action if and when management did so. Since then an uneasy truce has existed s, with the Union receiving an express undertaking that the appliance and staff would not be relocated before further consultation had taken place. The Department is now saying that it’s ready to act.

On the Department’s drawing board is a proposal to relocate Huntingwood’s aerial pumper to Hornsby, and to shift Alexandria’s major aerial (and 10 staff positions) to Huntingwood.

We support the need for a major aerial at Huntingwood, but not at the expense of existing jobs/resources elsewhere. After all, is the risk at Alexandria – with its explosion of high rise housing and corresponding increase in population – really any less than it was 20 years ago? Whilst the Department has produced all of the charts and statistics to say yes, common sense (and the continuing outbreak of major incidents, like yesterday morning) says otherwise. Moving the Brigades’ existing resources from one area to another in an attempt to plug the gaps is like shuffling deck-chairs on the Titanic, and if Sydney continues to grow then the Union will fight to ensure that the NSWFB’s workforce and fleet grow with it.

Long Service Leave 1: Quotas

Following repeated representations from the Union, the Department has agreed to a joint review of the LSL quotas for Firefighters, Station Officers and Senior Officers. Given the quotas were set well over a decade ago, and the growth in firefighter numbers (of all ranks) over that time, it would be more than unreasonable if the quotas were not increased by at least a proportional amount. More on this as it comes to hand.

In the interim, members are advised that if you apply for a period of Long Service Leave in excess of 2 calendar months, or 62 days, then you are waived from the quota restrictions which otherwise apply to all LSL applications.

Long Service Leave 2: Pre-‘85 retained service

Up until last month, permanent firefighters who had transferred from retained brigades prior to 9 May 1985 were not able to count their retained service for the purposes of long service leave calculations. This unfair and arbitrary limitation was a result of the Department continuing to narrowly apply some of the more anachronistic provisions of the LSL Act.

As a result of Union pressure and as part of the recent Award settlement, the Department has agreed to remove this inequitable limitation. As a consequence, all formerly-retained permanent members can now count their retained service for the purposes of Long Service Leave (subject to their permanent employment directly following their retained employment). As part of the deal, the new policy also applies to members who have left the Brigades since August 2002.

What does this mean for these members? Either extra leave or extra money when they retire. It’s also a belated acknowledgement dragged out of the Department that service given by retained firefighters is worthy of recognition and is of value, regardless of when it occurred.

PSTP Dispute update

The Union’s Notice of 16 April 2004, announced that the Public Safety Training Package (PSTP) had been mothballed due to the increased burden it placed on every member seeking promotion and the fact that the Deparment attempted to implement it without agreement (as required by the Award). There remains no agreement for the introduction of the PSTP.

Following recent representations by the Unions officials, the Department has now agreed that it will not ask members to complete or be assessed on any part of the PSTP until further notice. As such the pre-existing AFC modules remain current. It has also been agreed that no firefighter will have their promotion held up or delayed in any way with the reversion to the status quo (ie. the AFC modules).

As a result of the Union’s agitation of the issue, and our ensuing agreement with management, notice of the promotion of a large number of members appeared in last Friday’s In Orders 2004/14. The parties are due to commence detailed discussions on the implementation of the PSTP in the coming weeks, however any final Union agreement will be conditional on the system being relevant and acceptable to members.

Electronic Self Service

As part of the negotiation of the 2004 Awards, the Union agreed to the trialing by members of Electronic Self-Service (ESS) on the Brigades’ Intranet. This Service allows members to access their payroll and leave details on line as well as looking at training and career history and maintaining personal details. Whilst this is obviously more efficient for the Department, it may also assist members, particularly because the payroll information is easy to understand (unlike the pay slips). Members with a view – one way or the other – on ESS are encouraged to forward your comments to the State Secretary by email or fax prior to the next scheduled meeting of the State Committee meeting on Friday, 30 July.

Health and Fitness 1: Swiss Balls

The Department, in consultation with the Union, has now extended its pilot Swiss Ball Program to City of Sydney Fire Station with the hope of broadening the program to allow more members to participate. The program is a 3hour fitness class where members are given their own Swiss ball, a fitness video and information poster.

Feedback from members who have participated in the trial has so far been positive, however the State Committee will continue to monitor the program and membership feedback before a final decision on the program’s implementation is made. One area of ongoing concern is the uncertainty of workers compensation coverage whilst the Swiss balls are being used off duty and further, an injured member’s status (ie, on/off duty) under the D&D Award.

Whilst such questions can only be answered once a claim has been accepted or rejected (and that will depend on the individual circumstances of each case), the Department’s view is that members will not be covered for worker’s compensation, nor on-duty D&D, if they are injured using the Swiss Balls outside of work hours. The Union has received conflicting legal advice which suggests that such members may be covered, and any member who is concerned about their coverage or who is injured whilst using the Swiss Ball off duty should contact FBEU Industrial Officer George Maniatis for further assistance and advice.

Health and Fitness 2: Quit Smoking Program

Members are hopefully already aware of the joint Union/Department Quit Smoking Program that commenced on World No Tobacco Day, 31 May. Whilst the official launch is still to occur, members can apply now for the program, which includes Nicotine Replacement Therapy (ie, “patches”, or NRT) and numerous other support mechanisms.

To date 33 members have signed up for the 8 week NRT program. In what is believed to be a first for the NSW public sector, the Union has secured the first 4 weeks’ supply of NRT free of charge, and the remaining 4 weeks at cost. The Department’s Health Services section and NSW Health also offer a call back system whereby information and counseling can be provided to assist people who are attempting to quit.

WTO: “from inequitable to inhuman”

“Globalisation . . . is about power and control. It is the reshaping of the world into one without borders ruled by a dictatorship of the world’s most powerful central banks, commercial banks and multinational companies. It is an attempt to undo a century of social progress and to alter the distribution of income from inequitable to inhuman.”

Paul Hellyer, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada

While the likes of Murdoch and other rightwing pundits argue that the globalisation is a natural trend and ‘inevitable’, it is actually being deliberately orchestrated through policies and agreements made by individuals, corporations and self appointed interest groups. As globalisation is deemed to be natural and inevitable, the need to debate such processes in our Parliaments and involve Australians in this debate has also been deemed ‘unnecessary’. As such many of the decisions are made by sectional bureaucrats and corporate lawyers behind closed doors. You (and probably your local MP) are locked out.

Driving the globalisation agenda is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – the most powerful organisation in the world, with rules that can override elected parliaments in almost every country. WTO agreements increasingly reach into every part of our lives, yet most of us know little about them. To help correct this, “The World Trade Organisation – An Australian Guide” can now be found at:



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