News

SITREP 43/2012

November 9, 2012

  • FRNSW budget crisis update
  • Fatigue Management Policy – wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Residential priority (re)confirmed for country relief
  • Tuck shop Baird’s billion dollar blunder
  • Barry’s big fat new fire tax

FRNSW budget crisis update

 It’s been another big week in the train wreck that is the NSW public sector under Barry O’Farrell. On Monday, in spite of undertakings to provide advance notice, FRNSW management finally pressed the button and began closing fire stations in order to meet the budget cuts of their political masters.

It is clear now, if it was ever in doubt, that this Government is prepared to gamble with public safety. The Union remains opposed to the closing of stations, be it temporary or otherwise, and consequently instructed members to not perform outduties or relief if their station was closed.

The dispute went back before the Industrial Relations Commission, where Justice Backman recommended that the Union lift its bans, and that the Department stop closing stations, until 4 December. She also recommended that the FBEU present the September Special General Meeting proposals to the membership for reconsideration.

Today the Union’s State Committee met and resolved to decline to observe this last recommendation. The September SGM returned a clear rejection of that proposal, and it was felt that nothing was to be gained from repeating the process. That being said, the Union does not believe that closure of stations is the only way budget cuts can be achieved, and consequently contacted the IRC this afternoon seeking to have the dispute bought back before Justice Backman for further conciliation.

The Union will continue to observe Justice Backman’s other recommendations, on the understanding that the Department shall also do so. While the O’Farrell Government’s budget cuts are the cause of this crisis, there are other alternatives to meet these cuts than closing operational fire stations. Discussions will continue next week with the Department. More to follow.

Fatigue Management Policy – wolf in sheep’s clothing?

The Department’s new Fatigue Management Policy (FMP) was published in this week’s In Orders despite Union objections that:

  • the Procedures and Guidelines which flesh out the FMP are not yet available;
  • the FMP does not specify what the ‘approved levels’ for safe hours of work are; and
  • the FMP attempts to push the main responsibility for fatigue management onto firefighters, rather than management.

The FMP may well turn out to be benign, but the Union is reserving its position pending release of the Procedures and Guidelines. Stay tuned.

Residential priority (re)confirmed for country relief

Last month the Union wrote to the Department highlighting that, contrary to a 6 year old agreement on selecting employees to perform country relief, Zone Commanders were denying members within their Zone permission to perform country relief because the member’s absence would generate overtime and hurt the Zone budget. So firefighters who reside in the country area were being passed over and the relief opportunities instead being given to firefighters who live in Sydney, thereby placing a bigger burden on the Department’s budget.

The Department has now written to confirm (yet again) that “Senior Management has been reminded and instructed to release residentially qualified firefighters to perform country relief, unless there are extenuating circumstances.” Accordingly, residentially-qualified members who are denied country relief should contact the Union office for further advice and assistance.

Tuck Shop Baird’s billion dollar blunder

The Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat last week revealed an O’Farrell Government $1 billion mistake. Treasurer Michael Baird forecast a deficit of $337M in June, but the reality was a surplus of $680M. Achterstraat was reported as saying the poor accounting is not acceptable. “For a number of years I’ve been concerned about the quality of the financial accounts coming from the departments into Treasury and this year I guess I’m coming to the end of my tether,” he said. “The NSW Government is a billion-dollar business, it’s not a school tuck shop.”

Will this lead to the absurd budget savings measures being wound back? You wouldn’t bet on it – this Government’s desire to cut public service jobs, wages and conditions is driven not by any genuine fiscal need, but by its blind ideological hatred of the public sector, its workers and most of all, its unions.

Barry’s big fat new fire tax

Our campaign against the O’Farrell Government’s push to hand $700 million to insurance companies by relieving them of the burden of funding their fair share of emergency services in NSW must be biting. Public comment on the O’Farrell Government’s “Funding Our Emergency Services” discussion paper was extended by three weeks, closing instead on 31 October.

The Department continues to run cover for the O’Farrell Government, this time refusing the FBEU’s application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 to release all of a May 2010 Pricewaterhouse Coopers research paper on the subject. According to management, if the (publicly funded) consultants’ report was released in full, then:

“(a) the information would be reasonably perceived as fixed NSW Government policy on the topic of an appropriate funding model for FRNSW, which would not be changed by public submissions surrounding the Discussion Paper;

(b)   the public would reasonably conclude that the NSW Government has already made up its mind about whether or not to amend funding provisions in the Fire Brigades Act 1989, regardless of public submissions surrounding the Discussion Paper; and

(c)   the false perceptions referred to clauses 23 (a) and (b) above would inhibit the NSW Government’s public consultation process underway for the future funding of FRNSW.”

So according to the Department, the document can’t be released before the consultative process is over because if it was, the public would “reasonably conclude” that there was no point in making a submission because “the NSW Government has already made up its mind”. Which of course it has.

Jim Casey
State Secretary 

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