December 10, 2012
- Station closures and TOLing:
- Clarification of Stand Bys and Move Ups
- More TOLing Q and A
- Gallacher: one portfolio, two standards
- CL = CLose station
- Relieving Officers
- Workers comp cuts already biting hard
- Secondary or Other Employment Policy
- Tuck Shop Baird “loses” another $800 million
Station closures and TOLing:
Clarification of Stand Bys and Move Ups
A memo from FRNSW Deputy Commissioner Smith on 4 December titled “Move Ups” sought to make a distinction between move ups on the one hand, and stand bys and outduties on the other. We agree in principle with the distinction, but not with the Deputy Commissioner’s interpretation that a “move up” involves a whole appliance and crew whereas a “stand by” or “outduty” involves only individual members. The Award says nothing of the sort and that instruction is therefore to be disregarded.
The TOLing situation (which, contrary to management’s continued spin, is anything but “business as usual”) remains fluid and under constant review by the Union’s officials, as do our instructions to members. Members are therefore to observe the following definitions until further notice:
- A “Move Up” is where an appliance and its crew are directed to relocate to another station or location in order to provide cover for another station or appliance that remains staffed but is operating elsewhere (eg, the other station has responded to a major incident, or is undertaking training or some similar FRNSW activity but is still available to respond).
- A “Stand By” is where a firefighter, either individually or as part of an appliance crew, is directed to relocate to another station or location for 4 hours or less in order to provide cover for another station or appliance that has been taken off line (TOLed).
In short, a relocation to cover for an appliance that has been TOLed is a Stand By, not a Move Up, and the limitations set out in last week’s advice and instructions to members will therefore apply. If the station you are covering for is still operating elsewhere then it is probably a Move Up, the exception being that if the station you are covering for is operating elsewhere and you find that they are covering for a TOLed station then both stations will be performing a Stand By.
There is no limit to the number of Move Ups or Stand Bys a station may perform but as per last week’s advice, a Stand By which exceeds 4 hours becomes an Outduty. And because (a) no firefighter can be directed to perform more than 12 Outduties per calendar year and (b) no Station Officer can be directed to perform any Outduties at all, an appliance cannot be directed to Stand By at another station/location if it is known in advance that they will be required to do so for more than 4 hours.
Members are therefore advised to seek confirmation before leaving their station of the expected duration of the Stand By. If it is clear that to do so would breach either (a) or (b) above, then you should politely inform your supervising officer that you are declining to do so in accordance with Union instructions and the Award.
Members (and Station Officer members in particular) have asked what they should do when they are Standing By elsewhere and are about to exceed the 4 hour Stand By limit? The answer is to inform both your supervising officer and a Union official of the situation, but not leave the station until directed to do so by management. If the 4 hour limit is passed then all members on that appliance (including the S/O, if present) will have performed an Outduty (albeit involuntarily) and will therefore be entitled to payment of the relieving allowance. Any member in this situation who is refused recognition of the performance of an Outduty and/or payment of the allowance should provide all necessary details to the Union asap.
More TOLing Q and A
Q. Can a Station Commander (ie, an S/O who is not a reliever) be directed to staff a specialist appliance at that station while a relieving officer (or post-SOPP Leading Firefighter) is brought in to staff the station’s pumper?
Yes, but only if they are already being paid the Rescue or Hazmat qualification allowance (and are therefore qualified to do so). The permanent S/O will remain the Station Commander regardless of what appliance they are staffing.
Q. Can an oncoming shift which arrives at their station early (for example, the entire night shift is in by 1720 hrs) staff and respond on a TOLed appliance?
Firstly, the Department is deciding (and budgeting) to close these stations and appliances until the end of shift. Why let it and their bosses in Government off the hook? It will only encourage them to TOL more. Secondly, if you respond on any appliance or otherwise commence work before the start of your rostered shift without the express approval of management then you may not be covered by workers comp in the event of injury, and you may not be covered by the Department’s insurance in the event of an MVA.
If management authorises you to respond before the change of shift then not only will you be covered, you will also be paid for it at overtime rates. Otherwise, don’t do it.
Gallacher: one portfolio, two standards
In 1995 the Union welcomed the Carr Government’s decision to separate the Police and Emergency Services portfolios. It remained that way for the next 16 years and the NSWFB, RFS and SES all benefited, not least from not having to fight the Police Force for the Minister’s attention, and budget.
This all came to an abrupt end with last year’s change of government and the appointment of a new Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the former police officer Mike Gallacher. The changes are already there for all to see, with FRNSW stations now closing and hundreds of permanent firefighter jobs set to be lost.
FRNSW, the RFS and SES are all subject to O’Farrell’s “Labour Cost Cap”, with each having had their budgets slashed and now facing job cuts. Police, on the other hand, are exempt. But it doesn’t end there.
A Police media release today about this weekend’s “Operation Unite, a two-day police blitz targeting alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour” reveals that “more than 2,500 additional police officers were deployed to target licensed premises, transport hubs, roads, waterways and other hot spots across the state”. More than 2,500 additional police officers?! Perhaps they weren’t all recalls, but there was presumably a whole lot more than the odd overtime shift being worked in order to pull that sort of deployment off.
At the same time, the same Minister continues closing fire stations for the first time in 100 years. Why? To rein in excessive overtime.
CL = CLose station
In the not so distant past, applications for Consolidated Leave would often be knocked back if they were going to cause overtime. Not any more. It seems the Department is now going out of its way to approve CL applications, even where it will result in the closure of the applicant’s station.
Some members have unkindly suggested that this, and the Department’s continued interest in single day Long Service Leave, is less about helping out the member who wants to take leave, and more about releasing another couple of firefighters for outduties once they TOL the station.
A recent “Ask the Commissioner” (CC #553) queried “the reasoning behind the Brigades’ policy that firefighters can elect to be relievers, while Station Officers cannot?”. Mr Mullins’ response questioned the policy (“perhaps it is time to review it”) and concluded with an invitation to all staff for feedback on same. We’re happy to oblige.
The practice of assigning all newly-promoted Station Officers as relievers may be customary, but there are probably as many reasons against it as there are for it. It is not dissimilar to the 80 year old policy of assigning all new Recruits to a District Station, but that went out with, well, District Stations and we all survived. The Union sees no good reason why senior Station Officers (and Inspectors, for that matter) cannot apply for and work as relievers.
The real question is not whether or not more experienced officers should be permitted to act as relievers (the answer is yes they should) but rather, how should such relieving officers be selected? The current “hand of God” approach whereby management mysteriously tap staff on the shoulder lacks transparency, to say the least. Regrettably, this is not a new question (see SITREPs 2/2009, 17/2009 and 14/2011) and the prospect of a satisfactory answer from management seems as distant as ever.
Workers comp cuts already biting hard
WorkCover’s latest scheme valuation shows a reduction in the deficit, down to about $1.5 billion just months after cuts to the scheme were passed. The valuation handed down last month had the O’Farrell Government claiming the valuation supports its ferocious cuts to workers compensation, with Finance Minister Greg Pearce crowing that “the deficit would be [about] $4.5 billion had these reforms not gone ahead”.
To put this in human terms, that’s $3 billion that hasn’t or won’t be paid to injured workers and their families in benefit payments, medical expenses and rehabilitation costs. And this is before many of the reforms, which are scheduled to commence January 2013, have even begun to bite.
It once again vindicates, if any further vindication was necessary, our strike of 21 June which caused the NSW Parliament to exempt firefighters from these appalling changes.
Secondary or Other Employment Policy
As members would be aware, the Department this week published a Secondary or Other Employment Policy in Commissioner’s Orders 2012/26.
The Union had been negotiating this matter, on and off, for many months after flatly rejecting the Department’s initial proposal which required members to gain written approval from the Department in order to engage in any other employment, as is the case in most other public sector agencies. In accordance with our June 2012 SGM resolution to oppose this, the policy now only requires members to self-declare their secondary (or for most retained members, other) employment if it falls outside of guidelines that indicate what may constitute a potential or actual conflict of interest.
This has taken the form of a checklist attached to the policy. If your answers to the questions contained in the checklist are all no, then there is no need for any further action, nor even to submit the form. The Union expects this to be the case for the vast majority of members. If there is a yes answer, this does not necessarily preclude the secondary or other employment, depending on the individual circumstances.
While the published policy remains a vast improvement on the Department’s first version, the Union is still far from happy with it. For example, we continue to question and oppose the need to complete the checklist annually (5.2), instead contending that it should only need revisiting if and when a member’s circumstances change. We also disagree with the policy’s requirement to seek permission to undertake employment whilst on annual or long service leave (5.3) – that’s your time, not theirs – nor do we agree with section 5.7 of the policy regarding members who are also Councillors.
The Union will monitor the policy’s implementation and encourages members with any concerns or questions about its operation to call or write to the Union for further advice and assistance.
Tuck Shop Baird “loses” another $800 million
Oh dear. We reported in SITREP 43/2012 that the Auditor General earlier last month slammed NSW Treasurer Mike Baird for making a $1 billion mistake in the NSW budget, and incorrectly reporting the State was in deficit when it actually was in surplus.
Now, the Treasurer’s final report on the State’s finances has incorrectly reported road maintenance spending as $1.028 billion, when the correct figure was $1.828 billion – that’s $800 million out. To lose $1 billion may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose another $800 million looks like carelessness, at the very least.
Perhaps the Treasurer should be cut some slack. After all, before entering politics at the last state election as the Liberal MP for Manly, he was a merchant banker. The poor bugger.