SITREP No. 09/11

March 4, 2011

Inside this issue:

  • Retained Sub-Branch Vote
  • 2011 Awards made
  • So is it a good deal?
  • Why 2.5% is really 3%
  • Meeting mayhem?

Retained Sub-Branch vote

RSB members held 55 separate meetings around the state this week to vote upon the proposed 2011 Retained Award, with the result being declared 389 members for, 127 against and 2 abstentions.

2011 Awards made

The Union’s applications for new 2011 Permanent and Retained Awards were both approved by the IRC late yesterday afternoon.  To say that it was a close run thing would be an understatement, with the Department only receiving approval for the new Awards from the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Treasury literally 5 minutes before the hearing commenced.

The current Awards will remain in place until Thursday 17 June, when both new Awards – and the first 2.5% wage increase – will take effect. Before that occurs though, a one-off lump sum payment will be made to all firefighters on Thursday 24 March (ie, in 3 weeks time), $100 for each retained member and $500 for each permanent member. Why? Because the current Awards have another four months to run and while we were able to drag the future wage increases forward from June to February each year, we weren’t able to do this in 2011. The Union therefore negotiated this lump sum payment as a sort of backpay to cover the period between now and 17 June.

So is it a good deal?

A clear majority of voting members agreed with the Union’s State Committee that the answer to that question is, in the current political climate, yes. That said, the Union’s officials are under no doubt that a sizeable section of the membership continues to think otherwise. The truth is that none of us will really know for another six months or more.

Some things are already known though, like the fact that there was no loss or reduction of any existing award provision. This is a significant win in its own right, and stands in stark contrast to our 2008 Award round – and indeed any public sector wage negotiations for the last decade and more. 

If the incoming O’Farrell Government announces a public sector wage freeze then these Awards will clearly be a great outcome. If, on the other hand, the Coalition rolls out a new public sector wages policy that offers 4% or more with no strings attached, then we’ve just sold ourselves short. Your elected officials think there’s a good chance of the former occurring and no chance of the latter, which is why we recommended the deal. Were we right? With a change of government certain in 3 weeks time, we don’t have too long to wait before we find out.

Why 2.5% is really 3%

Already beyond doubt is the ongoing benefit of the movement of the Awards’ dates back to February. These and all future wage increases will now occur 18 weeks earlier than the current Awards allow, in February rather than June, with the result that the 2.5% increases provided each year in these Awards are actually in the order of 3% or more per annum. This has also confused a lot of members. 

As explained above, our current Award does not expire until 17 June 2011. If we had rejected the new 2011 Awards then our next Award, and first wage increase, would have commenced on 1 July 2011. The second wage increase would have occurred on 29 June 2012 and the third and final increase on 28 June 2013. The Award would then have expired on 17 June 2014, with the first increase under the next award (the 2014 Award) being scheduled to commence on 27 June 2014.

Under the new 2011 Awards, the first 2.5% increase is payable on 17 June (not 1 July) 2011, the second 2.5% increase on 24 February (not 29 June) 2012 and, for Permanent members, the third increase on 22 February (not 28 June) 2013. The Permanent Award will expire on 20 February (not 17 June) 2014, with the first increase under the next Award (the 2014 Award) being scheduled to commence on the pay period commencing 21 February (not 27 June) 2014.

In other words, the first increase in 2011 comes only 2 weeks earlier (albeit after this year’s lump sum payment), but the second increase in 2012 comes 18 weeks earlier and in 2013, 18 weeks earlier again. The Awards also expire 18 weeks earlier, meaning that your first increase under the following Award can be expected to commence 18 weeks earlier also.

Receiving your wage increases 18 weeks earlier each year means demonstrably more money for you, year in, year out, for the rest of your career. This is an advantage that will last well beyond the life of these 2011 Awards. Losing our February dates in 2008 was a disaster. Reclaiming those dates in 2011 is a significant win.

Meeting mayhem?

The controversy surrounding this wage round was not confined simply to the deal itself. The timing of the members’ meetings and the distribution of the agenda also attracted considerable, and understandable, criticism. In arranging these meetings the State Committee was forced to balance many competing interests, the one unmovable factor being yesterday’s deadline for agreement. Some of the problems encountered were of our making (eg, having insufficient SCOM officials to attend all of the meetings) and some were not (having an official fail to attend a meeting because his child was admitted to hospital the night before). I acknowledge members’ concerns and apologise for any problems encountered. The March meeting of the State Committee will review what went wrong.

For all of that, we did notify members on 11, 18 and 20 February that an SGM had been called. Sitrep 7/2011 left little room for doubt, advising “It is important to note that this meeting will be deciding on the 2011 permanent and retained Awards so members are encouraged to attend and vote.” It should also be noted that the combined SGM and RSB meeting attendances exceeded 1,200 voting members, making these the best attended Union meetings since the height of the D&D Dispute in 1999.

Jim Casey
State Secretary