Recent comments in the national print media sledging firefighters for working more than the 40 hours required under the Award have been an unfortunate conclusion to a very bitter and acrimonious wage campaign. The comments – driven home on a methodical and strategic basis through a series of talk back radio programs have caused enormous distress to firefighters across New South Wales. This is wrong and it should stop now.
Allegations that firefighters are rorting a system that is simply under resourced and underpaid will do nothing other than drive down morale in an environment where a lack of trust and support in the workforce can have devastating consequences. NSW has 250 brigades with retained firefighters attached and each of these members is paid an average of $ 9000 per year. For this retained firefighters are expected to be available 24 hours per day 7 days per week and face the same dangers and the same risks permanent firefighters face. If anyone is being rorted here it is the firefighters and not the Department.
The difficulty in crewing these brigades is caused by insufficient numbers attached to most brigades and very poor pay for the dirty and dangerous work required. The Union has attempted to deal with these issues by calling for additional retained firefighters and a substantial increase in retained firefighter remuneration. Unfortunately the Department has taken a different approach and instead has chosen to simply not maintain crewing levels.
The Union had been expecting that at some stage the NSW Government would launch an attack on firefighters in the same manner that Prison Officers, State Rail employees and Sydney Ferries workers have been demonized by the Government during their wage negotiations. The Union did not however expect that such a public campaign would be rolled out by the Department against firefighters.
Most members would expect that after all the grief and division caused by the recent wage dispute we could all now put it behind us and move on to rebuild the relationship between the Department and the workforce. It now appears this is not the case and firefighters can look forward to a very confrontational approach from the Department over the next three years.
Delegates from across NSW were today briefed up on the outcome of our wage case and should be available to answer questions on the content of the new permanent and retained Awards. Delegates were also briefed on the Union’s strategic approach to negotiations with Government for a new Death and Disability Award due on March 21st 2009.