In September last year, members across the State voted to support a 12 month trial of changes to the way we work that would reduce excessive overtime. Throughout October & November the Union and the Department held numerous meetings and wrote letters backwards and forwards over the issue. In all this time, the Department has run hot and cold, like a tap.
Finally in late November the Union and Department agreed to trial three initiatives: tanker staffing, staffing of certain pumps and a part time roster for firefighters with carer’s responsibilities. The agreement, signed by the Union and the Commissioner was to come into effect on 1 December 2006 and run for one year. The day after the trial was agreed and on the very day it was to commence, the Commissioner notified the Union that he was not prepared to honour the staffing parts of that agreement.
Frustrated with all the delays on December 26th the Union wrote again giving the Department a deadline for the trial’s implementation. The Department wrote back on 12th January again committing to the trial and suggesting some minor amendments. The Union too, again agreed to the trial and to discuss the suggested changes. These discussions finished earlier this morning and it was assumed that the In Orders would be promulgated either this afternoon or early this week.
Today the Department again flip flopped on the deal. In a letter faxed to the Union this afternoon, the Department claims that it “is not in a position to commence the trials” due, in part, to the national bushfire situation. It has however indicated that it may be prepared to reconsider the matter after this Bushfire Danger Period finishes.
Frankly, the Union is disappointed with the Department’s approach. The Union’s new leadership put its credibility on the line and advanced a position that allowed the Department unprecedented flexibility based on its capacity to manage risk. This process was designed to get the Department to put its money where its mouth is and put up or shut up. For years, the Department has been shouting from the rooftops: “Help us reduce overtime!” When members however took up the challenge, this cry suddenly and rather unexpectedly became a whimper.
This trial represented a real and genuine attempt by the Union to help reduce overtime and put the onus of responsibility to keep fire stations open where it belongs – on the Department. This Union leadership team is not about burying its head in the sand and fighting from a reactive position when eventually we are told we will have to have our budgets cut. Make no mistake these negotiations are all about what we face when the bean counters come looking to slash and burn our budgets over the next couple of years. The FBEU is more than just a Union that pushes for wage rises. Ours is a Union that is looking to place our industry in the strongest possible position for the years ahead.