NSWFB 2005/2006 budget and more

May 24, 2005

Inside this notice:

  • NSWFB 2005/2006 budget – leaner times ahead
  • Police wage deal
  • MSA Orion gas detectors banned
  • Gym memberships
  • To T-shirt or not to T-shirt? There is no question
  • Formalin, formaldehyde and pheno
  • Station Inspections – Back to Bullying?
  • In brief

NSWFB 2005/06 budget – leaner times ahead

The Carr Government did the NSWFB few favours in today’s State Budget. Whilst last year’s total expense budget of $430.1M has received a modest increase of 5.5% to $453.7M, the Brigades’ capital budget has been slashed from $43.3 to only $35.8M – a cut of over 17%.

The wages front is no better, with a notional 5.3% increase in the ‘employee related’ expenses from last year’s projected budget of $340.8M to $358.8. The problem here is that this year’s actual ‘employee related’ expenses ran to $356.4M, or more than $15.7M over budget, so the coming year’s budget has grown in real terms by only $2.4M. That’s less than half of 1%, and nowhere near enough to meet cover the cost of a further 4% wage increase for all NSWFB employees in the 2005/06 year.

Expect further attacks by management on established work practices and members’ entitlements, and renewed groaning about the eternally twin evils of sick leave and o/t.

Police wage deal

Several members called to complain that this week’s wage deal for NSW Police is better than that secured by our Union earlier this year. With respect to those members and our friends at the NSW Police Association, it isn’t.

Firstly, the Police deal’s term is exactly the same as that for firefighters – 4 years. The difference is that their 4 years will start on 1 July 2005 and finish on 30 June 2009, whereas our 4 years started back on 24 February 2004 and finishes on 23 Feb 2008.

Secondly, the Police deal’s quantum increase is the same as ours at 16% – or 17%, as reported in the media, which is simply the compounded effect of staged increases.

The biggest difference between the two wage deals is the timetable for the delivery of the wage increases. The FBEU’s deal delivers our increases in 4 instalments of 4% over a 3 year period, the first back in February 2004  and the last in February 2007. The Police deal is quite different, delivering their increases in 7 separate instalments over 3.5 years – the first 4% in July 2005 followed by 2% in July 2006 and a further 2% every six months thereafter.

If the FBEU had taken the Police approach then Senior Firefighters would have been $1,600 worse off during the life of the current Award, this being the cost to each SF member of the delayed payrises. It’s these delayed payments that appear to have funded the “up to 24%” increases reported by the media for a relatively small number of Sergeants and Detectives.

Either way, you don’t have be a detective to figure out that you’re better off receiving 4% up front rather than 2% now and 2% in 6 months’ time.

MSA Orion gas detectors banned

The Government has again used firefighters for its own publicity by announcing that gas detectors are now stowed on all fire appliances as part of the State’s war against terrorism. Unfortunately for the Premier, the public was misled because the Union has banned the installation of these new detectors until a productivity and maintenance agreement has been reached. In the meantime, the only appliances carrying the new MSA Orion gas detectors should be the few that previously carried the now-superseded TMX412 detectors.
Costello’s tax cuts

It wasn’t needed, but in further evidence of where the Liberal Party really stands on the question of “battlers” the federal Treasurer, Peter Costello recently announced huge tax cuts of $65 per week for Superintendents and only $6 per week for Senior Firefighters.

For those who missed it, the Opposition’s alternative – tax breaks of only $35 per week for Superintendents and $12 per week for Senior Firefighters – was either slammed by the mainstream media, or reported so briefly as to not have been reported at all.

Gym Memberships

It seems permanent members are being told that they are not to make use of gym memberships, provided in lieu of station exercise equipment, whilst on shift – presumably out of misplaced managerial fear of public scrutiny. Apart from being ridiculous, this is a good indication of how hypocritical the Department can be about health and safety. It also raises the question over whether or not members are covered by workers’ compensation entitlements when using the memberships outside of work hours.

To avoid doubt, NSWFB gym memberships are provided in lieu of suitable exercise equipment in the station and should therefore be accessed by permanent members on duty.

To T-shirt or not to T-shirt? There is no question

There appears to be some confusion about the wearing of T-shirts and other PPE by firefighters in regard to time and place. Recent Departmental instructions suggest that firefighters are expected to strip down in public when donning PPE for response.

The Union has rejected any variation in the approved uniform configuration for firefighters with regard the wearing of T-shirts. It is the Union’s position that safety and comfort take precedent over style when it comes to PPE, and we reiterate the following:

•    T-shirts are the minimum approved PPE allowed under firefighting coats (tunic, bushfire jacket), gas suits, splash suits, raincoats and reflective vests. The T-shirt may be upgraded to the Duty Wear shirt for increased protection or comfort.

Logic dictates that, for efficiency, firefighters who wear their T-shirts under their PPE should not have to disrobe to respond and dress up after removing their PPE. Thermal heat loss is just as important as insulation from radiated heat and direct flame impingement. Therefore under the supervision of the officer in charge and taking into account the environmental conditions present at the time, NSW Fire Brigades T-shirts are appropriate for firefighters to wear operationally and whilst carrying out activities such as hydrant inspections etc.

Formalin, formaldehyde and phenol

Formalin, formaldehyde and phenol are all from the same group of chemicals and were supplied by the Department and constantly used by firefighters prior to the mid 1980’s. Uses included the cleaning of BA, degreasing of motors, disinfecting and the cleaning of bathrooms and toilets. Formaldehyde was used for many years by embalmers as a chemical to preservative bodies and led to a study that showed a higher than average incidence of cancer in this occupation. An excerpt from the National Cancer Institute follows:    

Can formaldehyde cause cancer?

Although the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known, less is known about its potential long-term health effects. In 1980, laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. This finding raised the question of whether formaldehyde exposure could also cause cancer in humans. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure (1). Since that time, some studies of industrial workers have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with nasal cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer, and possibly with leukemia. In 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen. However, in a reevaluation of existing data in June 2004, the IARC reclassified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen (2).

The Union (and, although publicly silent, the Department) recognises the exposure to firefighters up until the withdrawal of these products in the 1980’s. The Union therefore advises all firefighters who used or were exposed to these carcinogenic products supplied by the Department, to complete a Hazardous Exposure form and forward these to Health Services. The Union will continue to monitor the progress of events relating to these exposures to members.

Station Inspections – Back to Bullying?

There appears to be an unsettling trend by the Department to introduce ‘jackboot’ style ‘back to basics’ station inspections, where firefighters are expected to parade in uniform before Senior Officers, military-style, demonstrate their ability to use equipment and have station and personnel records scrutinized.

The days of the ‘Firie’s Friend’ appear to be over as white glove testing, twenty question quick quizzes (remember the old ‘stump the stars’ at the college?), lion-tamer-style uniform hanging, tyre black fetishes and brasso splashing have once again become main priorities. Even more outrageous is the inspection of ‘sick leave’ records and the belief by some that all firefighters are bludgers who need to be ‘chastised’ during these inspections. The Union totally opposes this draconian approach to management, which flies in the face of the Department’s recently stated commitment to oppose ‘bullying’ in the workplace, and has not agreed to any such sick leave inspections or intimidating protocols.

Senior Officer members are therefore requested to refrain from participating in this archaic and inappropriate style of station inspections. Further, any member who is subjected to any form of bullying should notify the Union immediately, because action will be taken.

In Brief

  • The Union has not agreed to the distribution of the Department’s so-called “Restaurant Fire Safety Fact Sheet” by station crews, and the task of visiting all restaurants within your station area to carry out what appears to be ComSafe work is therefore banned.
  • The “Adopting Schools Assistance Program” is another initiative implemented without consultation, and is therefore again banned until further notice from the Union.
  • There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch. Members are again advised not to accept the Department’s offer of “free” health assessments or to complete the associated survey forms. Doing so could compromise a future workers compensation and/or D&D claim and may, in a worst case scenario, even result in you losing your job.
  • The Department doesn’t like it, but the fact remains that if the Award contradicts the Act, Standing Orders and/or In Orders then the Award prevails. The Standing Orders item headed “Fireground Refreshments” advises that “when a fire or emergency extends beyond two hours, refreshments shall be arranged unless the personnel concerned will be returned to their stations before a further half hour expires.” There is no “half hour” proviso within the Award, and refreshments (or the allowance in lieu) therefore fall due after 2 (not 2.5) hours.

Craig Harris
State Secretary                               Tuesday 24th May, 2005