SITREP 15/2013

April 14, 2013

secret docsIn this issue:

  • A tale of two documents
  • Keeping Secrets
  • Retained Award negotiations update – FBEU ruins the surprise party
  • Thatcher dead, but zombie Thatcher lives on

A Tale of Two documents

This week saw the release of two documents by the Department – one is a snapshot of what FRNSW staff think of their organisation, and the other is FRNSW management’s blueprint for the future. They make interesting reading.

The “People Matter” survey

This survey was taken across the entire NSW Public Sector (for a copy click here). Only 5% of FRNSW staff submitted answers, as compared to 16% of staff throughout the rest of the public service. No explanation is offered for the low level of FRNSW participation.

Reading the survey, something becomes very clear. On average, employees of FRNSW trust each other to treat workmates with respect (87%), are proud of the work they do (88%), and believe that within their work groups they work efficiently. All of these responses were significantly above the average compared to the rest of the public sector. We like each other, and we like the work we do.

However, only 36% of respondents believed that senior managers model the “values” of the organisation, only 22% believe senior managers listen to employees, and only 21% feel that senior managers provide clear direction for the future of the organisation. Again, these numbers were significantly lower than across the rest of the public sector.

It is not really that surprising, but there you have it. Firefighters and FRNSW general staff like each other, and are proud of their work. But those feelings do not stretch to management, which is seen as being out of touch, disinterested in what we have to say, and behaving in ways inconsistent with their own proclaimed “values”.

Future Outlook: towards 2033

If the snapshot of the current situation in FRNSW is one of a labour force disengaged with and distrustful of management, we can go to the “Future Outlook: towards 2033” document to see what management intends to do about this, and where they would like to take us all by 2033.

I encourage all members to read the “Future Outlook” report (Click here). Once past the spin, it articulates a very clear agenda – one that does not bode well for firefighters. There are very few surprises in it. A commitment to firefighters performing MFR is front and center, along with much more.

Over the coming weeks SITREP will look at particular excerpts from the report. This week it is the question of consultation. Much is made through the document of the need for “open and effective lines of communication and engagement with all stakeholders involved with FRNSW”. The need for “sound two way communication” is noted. Then there’s the “transparent, evidence based decision making [that will] promote an engaged workforce and community”.

All for the good. So how’s that going at present? Just this week the MP for Shortland, Jill Hall, noticed a “Station Closed” poster on her local fire station and contacted FRNSW for an explanation. The response from management was not a celebration of sound two-way communication. The response was instead a communiqué from the Commissioner threatening firefighters with disciplinary action if they attempted to inform the community of station closures while at work.

If 2013 is anything to go on, we can expect that in 2033 communication will be a fundamental part of our “values”, as long as the message suits those hearing it. Members and management should be under no doubt that any member who is threatened for engaging in Union-approved action will be defended with the full force of our Union.

Keeping secrets

Contrary to the Department’s posturing about transparency, open government and consultation, the Union will be off again next week to the Administrative Decision Tribunal (ADT) in order to gain access to documents relating to budget cuts and temporary station closures. The Department has refused to release these documents on the grounds that it would be contrary to the public interest to do so because the content in question could lead to industrial action and/or be misrepresented by the Union. True story. The Union will be pursuing the release of these documents under the Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act, which replaced previous Freedom of Information laws and was introduced by then Labor Premier Nathan Rees as a way of ensuring open and transparent government.

This is the fourth Union GIPA application requiring the intervention of the ADT in order to force the Department, which at the end of the day is a public agency owned by you and I, to release public documents. What has the Department got to hide? Copies of both the Union’s and Department’s submissions in the current matter can be accessed in full on the online version of this SITREP.

Union’s Submissions – Click here.

Department’s Submissions – Pages 1-22, Pages 23-48, Pages 49-70, Pages 71-90.

Retained Award negotiations update – FBEU ruins the surprise party

Commissioner Mullins responded to the Union’s release of the Department’s draft retained wages schedule via SITREP 13/2013 in general email to staff this week, complaining (in part) that:

“Recently the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (FBEU) published a draft document provided by FRNSW, as well as a draft “salary schedule”.  The FBEU was provided with this information in order to assist with confidential discussions that were intended to further develop a possible new model. The FBEU was asked not to distribute the material as it had no accompanying information to provide context or explanation.”

None of the above is correct. We did not publish the “draft document”, only the salary schedule, and the State Committee only released that after it ceased to be confidential because senior management started leaking it – although we make no apologies for sharing this information with retained members in any event. And SITREP 13 makes a mockery of Mr Mullins’ claim that we released the wage schedule “without context or explanation”. It is clear from the feedback already received that, far from not understanding the proposal, retained members understood it all too well. It is equally clear that nobody much likes it.

The Commissioner’s response to the members’ rejection of the draft wages policy? Blame the Union. From this week’s Commish’s Corner:

“The draft proposal was provided to the FBEU for confidential discussion and comment. Unfortunately the FBEU chose instead to publish the document which clearly had a number of “rough edges” that needed to be worked through. Regrettably, this probably means that the proposal will lapse and go no further.  A short commentary will be issued this week, however most of the feedback received so far has been negative and it is probably now too late to try to explain the direction of the proposed changes.”

And here, because I couldn’t put it any better myself, is one member’s take on that on our Forum:

“Good lord. Silly of me to read one of those CC’s.

The FBEU has done it again, releasing confidential ‘not so smooth around the edges’ award documents, for all the retained to see and be communicated with. Doesn’t everyone realise that the real ‘fantastic’ offer was just round the corner? HRDH was just sharpening his pencil. Mind boggling rewards for years of dedication and service at your fingertips.

The FBEU ruined the surprise party, now all the feedback is negative.

This management is becoming tiresome. The morale-o-metre is flatlining. Not to mention the sarcasm required to live with it just isn’t fun any more, the whole box and dice is beyond any type of humour.”

More to follow in next week’s SITREP 16.

Thatcher dead, but zombie Thatcher lives on

The death this week of Margaret Thatcher has sparked widespread debate on the woman herself, and her legacy. I am not going to comment on her death, apart from noting that the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” has made it into to number 1 on the UK iTunes chart this weekend, which reflects some of the feeling regarding her. I am going to make the following comment on her legacy. The government she led dismantled large parts of the public sector (hospitals, schools, public transport and the rest), broke the trade union movement, and initiated a raft of other vicious attacks on ordinary people in both the UK, and abroad (Argentina, and Ireland most notably).

Her legacy is alive and well then. The current NSW Government, and the prospective Abbott Federal Government, have a similar agenda. If you want to know what Australia will look like in 2033 just look to the UK right now because this is very much where they intend to take us. Of course, this can only happen if people like us let them to do it. One thing is clear though –  no one can say that we haven’t been warned.

Jim Casey

State Secretary

Sunday 14 April 2013