January update

January 6, 2006

Inside this notice:

  • Workers compensation retained
  • Public holiday mishap
  • Reminder – Safety Officer Checklist
  • Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched…
  • Video surveillance on the fire ground
  • Who’s responsible for the meals
  • Operational Debriefs

Workers Compensation Retained

The Union has received a number of calls from retained members regarding delays in the payment of their worker’s compensation claims, sometimes up to 8 weeks. The Union will be making a complaint to Workcover and advises any retained member who has a delayed payment to do the same by calling 13 10 50.

Also could retained members who experience problems with their compensation claims, whether it be delayed payments or some other matter, please send an email to the Union office detailing the issue so that the Union can monitor Allianz’s performance. This can be done through the new website at

Public holiday mishap

The Union admits it was surprised by the Department’s pre Christmas generosity of providing two extra public holidays, and by the looks of it so was the Department. Unfortunately for all involved the Government only gazetted one additional public holiday this year.

Reminder – Safety Officer Checklist

Members performing the role of Safety Officer on the fireground are reminded that the checklist provided by the Department is not a record of your performance but rather a tool for your own use. It may destroyed at the end of the incident, retained for your own use or filed at the station.

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched…

Today’s In Orders included the Department’s policy on overt video surveillance and security cameras. During these negotiations the Department assured the Union that it was for security purposes only and that it would not be used against members. Having said that the Department refused to remove the various references to the recordings being used in disciplinary matters and being accessed by management in the event that someone might be doing the wrong thing. Further the Union can only view the footage if the member is already facing disciplinary action or if the Commissioner gives permission for employee representatives to view the tape.

Some members have asked, ‘if you are not doing anything wrong then what is the problem’. The issue is that video footage is as much at risk of misinterpretation as written documents, relayed conversations or recounts of events, however has a tendency of being relied upon far more heavily. Given the Department’s track record on ensuring procedural fairness and taking all of the evidence into account the Union doubts the Department’s ability to use this form of evidence responsibly.

One example that springs to mind is of a member who had worker’s compensation payments cut on the basis of video footage allegedly showing him working whilst off sick. Luckily his Station Officer spoke up and informed the Department that it was not actually the member, but a complete stranger in the footage. Given that access to footage is at the Commissioner’s discretion, the odds of other Union members being in a position to assist their Comrades is less likely. But it gets worse…

Video surveillance on the fire ground

As if it wasn’t enough that the Department is using surveillance in and around stations, now it is going to start using cameras to record footage of members at work during emergencies and incidents. This is outrageous, especially given that the footage will be used in debriefs and for monitoring health and safety. Before you dismiss this as a lightweight issue, imagine what it would be like if you became the ‘what not to do’ because management, with the benefit of hindsight, determined your actions to be incorrect. The Department must be naïve to think that there are not some officers out there that will take great delight in using this footage to shame and humiliate firefighters. (for further detail see ‘Operational Debriefs’). Firefighting is stressful enough without worrying about cameras on the fireground that may be later used to scrutinize your performance.

Some relief though – the Department confirmed that it will not have cameras set up to capture the decision making processes of Senior management on the fireground, nor is it proposing to have a live cam from the Commissioner’s office. However this is not surprising.

The Department has tried to argue that this will be good for firefighters; it will enhance learning, health and safety and will enable meaningful and effective debriefing. If the Department was really committed to health and safety on the fireground then they could start by improving training opportunities for Firefighters and Station Officers at the stations, rather than by trying to find another way of pointing the blame.

Members are instructed that:

  • where the incident command vehicle is responded to an emergency they are to withdraw firefighting efforts until such time as the incident commander confirms that video cameras will not be in operation.
  • masthead cameras mounted on the Incident Command Vehicle or portable cameras, are not to be operated by members.
  • no video footage is to be used for the purposes of official or unofficial debriefs for incidents or training exercises.

Who’s responsible for the meals

One use of the overt surveillance proposed by the Department could be to monitor the number of members collapsed on the fireground as a result of management’s inability to provide anything remotely close to adequate meals and refreshments, or in many cases, as the ‘soup nazi’ put it, “no food for you!”.

Use of outside contractors such as the Salvation Army, or in the case of bushfires the RFS, by the Department does not exonerate them from the responsibility to adequately feed and refresh firefighters when these other organisations fail. Putting your hands in the air and shifting blame to others appears to be Departmental policy. Christmas period bush and structure fires once again proved the Department’s failure to meet their Award obligations.

Those at the Botany factory fire will recall warm water, no fruit, no energy drinks or juice. Depending on the time of day members received a greasy hash brown, a couple of sausages, dubious peas and corn, or a chicken burger (which were later substituted with veggie burgers when they ran out). There was no variety and no catering for members with dietary restrictions.

Even worse if you attended a bushfire you got nothing, not even water. If the Station Commander used their initiative, and after assessing fire risk, took the crew to find meals they were reprimanded. The Union supports crews who, after attempting to obtain meals and refreshments through the chain of command, leave the fireground due to OH&S concerns for the welfare of members.

Members who attended incidents over the Christmas period and were not provided with acceptable meals and refreshments are to claim the appropriate allowances as per Clause 10 of the Award.

Operational Debriefs

It has also been brought to the Union’s attention that so called Operational Debriefs carried out by many Senior Officers have become nothing more than opportunities to criticize, berate and belittle many members in front of their peers. Feedback from firefighters about Incident Command is ignored as superfluous and irrelevant to the debrief process. This is an abuse of authority and completely alien to the intent of Operational Debriefs.

Any further reports of this unacceptable behaviour will result in the immediate banning of operational debriefs.

Craig Harris

State Secretary



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