SITREP No. 21/2011

May 27, 2011

Inside this issue:

  • O’Farrell attacks our wages and conditions: WorkChoices NSW-style is here
  • User Pays Promotions – OTEN fees dispute update
  • 2011 Easter Sunday Public Holiday and consolidated leave
  • Coffs Harbour Retained – the Department’s 2nd class citizens
  • Notice of Transfer – not on leave

O’Farrell attacks our wages and conditions: WorkChoices NSW-style is here

Hands up who voted Liberal?

This week the full detail of the O’Farrell Government’s draconian industrial laws became available when the legislation was tabled in Parliament. The legislation goes much further than first thought. We already knew that under it the IRC is forbidden from awarding pay increases of more than 2.5%, and expressly prevented from awarding pay increases on the basis of work value or productivity. The IRC won’t be the independent arbitrator any longer – it will be the rubber stamp for any policy changes the Government might make to the wages and conditions of public sector employees. Any increase over 2.5% must come from ‘employee related cost savings’ – cutting Award conditions or jobs. The IRC would also be forbidden to vary any Award –even if they found the variation was for ‘fair and reasonable conditions of employment for employees’- if the cost is over 2.5%.

The last week has seen a spate of news media characterising NSW public sector workers as overpaid, mollycoddled, and a drain on the state’s economy. This suggests that O’Farrell’s government know they will have a fight on their hands and are preparing the ground for that in the community. O’Farrell has no reason to back down after his massive election win.

We have granted ourselves some breathing space by settling the 2011 Award before the election. That Award would not be possible to negotiate now. But we’re not safe – like all public sector workers our Award is no longer the legal protection it once was.

While there is a slim chance that the Shooters and Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats may block the passage of this legislation, the more likely outcome is that next week we will be facing a new industrial relations environment in which NSW public sector workers will be the only workers in the country who will not have recourse to a court if in dispute.

The IRC has often been called a bosses court, and has not always been kind to the FBEU. But by reducing its power we will be facing the employer directly, with no legal protection. 

User Pays Promotions – OTEN fees dispute update

Members will recall that SITREP 17/2011 outlined the Department’s latest attempt to amend the arrangements for the payment of OTEN enrolment fees. The Department is proposing that it will in future pay for OTEN enrolment fees once only and that members will be required to pay for any and all subsequent enrolments.

The parties appeared before Justice Haylen in the Industrial Relations Commission this week, and he requested that the Department survey those members who it appears may not complete their course within the 24 month enrolment period. The Department has contacted those members to seek their feedback. The survey is voluntary, and members will not be identified in any material provided to the IRC. The survey also gives an opportunity for members to state what FRNSW should do to assist in completing their course.

The Union’s position remains that members should not have to pay OTEN fees and has continuously sought to restore the situation where all training required for progression and promotion is provided by the employer. The dispute will return to the IRC in three weeks. If O’Farrell’s WorkChoices becomes law as it presently stands (see above item), the IRC, even if it finds in our favour, may not be able to make an order in our favour  due to it being outside the government’s wage policy. Truly draconian.

2011 Easter Sunday Public Holiday and consolidated leave

In SITREP 18/2011 we reported that the Department was refusing to provide members any compensation for the fact that Easter Sunday has been proclaimed a public holiday. Despite meetings with the Department and two appearances before the IRC, management’s position has not changed. In management’s view, firefighters are not part of the general community which now either gets Easter Sunday off or public holiday pay.

The Union will now have this matter formally arbitrated, which will take time and resources that should not have to be expended.  We will keep members up to date on the progress of our case – bearing in mind the IRC may not be able to order the Department to pay.

Coffs Harbour Retained – the Department’s 2nd class citizens

The Union is currently embroiled in a dispute with the Department over its refusal to pay our Retained members at Coffs Harbour a redevelopment allowance whilst that station undergoes renovations.  Permanent members at 257, quite rightly, are receiving the allowance, but not Retained. Why? To save a few bucks? Surely not the way to run a self described world class fire and rescue agency.

Notice of Transfer – not on leave

Clause 27 of the Permanent Award provides that members are given certain notice periods in relation to being transferred to a different station or platoon. A member recently contacted the Union after being given notice of transfer to a different station within the GSA whilst he was on annual leave. The notice periods at clause 27 do not run while you are on leave. In this case, the notice period will only commence on your first day back at work.

Members can elect to waive the notice requirements should they wish to do so.

Jim Casey
State Secretary