More than a month has passed since the Union’s membership resolved at the recent Special General Meeting to trial several initiatives to reduce the burden of overtime. In that period a number of meetings between the Union and the Department have taken place. At one stage last week, negotiations appeared to have run completely off the rails when the Union reps were told that the Department would only agree to start the trial if we agreed to remove the date at which it stopped!
Clearly, a trial that doesn’t have an end date can’t be very temporary. The Union rejected this outright and the Department has since moved away from its indefinite trial stance. The Union is now anticipating that the Department will shortly be publishing an In Order that spells out the temporary changes to work practices and allows the subsequent savings in overtime payments.
At the latest meeting held this morning, the Department formally rejected the Union’s offer of an increase from 8 to 12 out-duties in return for a revised LF/SO promotion system with two levels of Leading Firefighter. While the Department indicated its interest in the increased out-duties, it does not support the additional LF rank. The Department has instead tabled its desire for a review of both Leading and Senior Firefighter ranks during the negotiations for the next award, which are scheduled to start in the middle of next year.
This same matter had earlier this year been the subject of negotiations over the Public Safety Training Package (PSTP) with the FBEU anticipating national recognition of qualifications and substantial increases in wages. The Department effectively closed those negotiations by informing the Union that no money was available to pay for them – perhaps award negotiations might provide money to pay for these new work practices.
The second of two SGM resolutions passed in September referred to a trial of three changes to current work practices with a review at the end of the trial that would establish how much money the Department has saved in terms of overtime. The first of those three work practices involves a part-time roster of two platoons that would allow members with carer’s responsibilities to work a set roster of Friday and Saturday night shifts followed the next week by Saturday and Sunday day shifts.
The Department has now agreed that eight firefighter positions will initially be available to trial the roster in the GSA (four on each of the two new platoons), with a ballot deciding the outcome in the event that there are more applicants than positions available. The Union remains convinced that by establishing a pool of members available to work solely on the four shifts that generate the greatest volume of overtime –this will have a major impact on the budgets bottom line.
In Order 1995/20
The second part of the temporary trial of work practices involves an interpretation of In Order 1995/20 and its specific relationship to the recall of members to make up minimum safe crewing levels. The Department argues that it is no longer necessary to maintain staffing levels through overtime on ‘Bravo’ and ‘Charlie’ pumps throughout the state, and at selected stations, because the NSWFB ‘Guarantee of Service’ (ie 90% attendance within ten minutes) can still be met without those resources.
The Department has, however, undertaken to maintain crewing levels in all fire districts within which a Total Fire Ban has been declared or a major incident is taking place. The Union has insisted that no member is to lose pay or recognition for attendance as a result and the Department has justified it’s position on the basis that it will maintain crewing at all brigades using its own Guarantee of Service as the criteria. The Union is also seeking a guarantee that establishment levels at retained stations throughout the State be maintained and in some cases increased
The third part of the temporary trial of work practices involves the crewing of water tankers. In 2000 the FBEU secured an agreement with the Department that guaranteed the crewing of all water tankers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the annual Bushfire Danger Period. That agreement was signed off by the Commissioner, the Premier’s Department and the FBEU and was then tendered to the labour courts. The position established by last month’s Special General Meeting will allow management the ability to temporarily waive this agreement during the trial. The Department for its part has undertaken to maintain crewing levels on tankers whenever Total Fire Bans are declared, when major fires are burning or when isolated pumps are unavailable.
The Union is now in the process of developing up a systemic away of recording the success or otherwise of these temporary changes to our work practices and will be regularly assessing the impact on members. The trial at its conclusion will be put to the Unions membership at a subsequent General Meeting and members will be deciding whether or not the trial has been successful.