December 7, 2013
- Retained Award negotiations update #8
Retained Award negotiations – update #8
Commissioner Mullins’ message to staff late yesterday confirmed the Department’s latest position to be nothing more than a (very) cheap and (particularly) nasty variation of an old, flawed Union model raised months ago in SITREP 30. While we’ve long-since moved on, the Department has gone backwards.
The Union’s current proposal …
… is, firstly, optional. We propose that all serving members would be given the choice of either remaining under the existing 7 ranks/levels and retainers or moving to a new 3 rank, two-part retainer system, the first component of which is a base retainer that would continue to be paid automatically every fortnight: Captain = $78.50, Deputy Captain = $67.10 and Firefighter = $22.50.
The second component is an hourly retainer of $1.30 for each hour of declared availability (down from our previously–proposed rate of $1.75 after our decision to keep incident kilometres and a base retainer). While payment of the hourly retainer would be limited to the minimum number of members required to staff each appliance at their station, all members attached to the station would continue to be called and, if they responded, paid both the hourly rate and return kilometres at the current $1.13 per km rate.
We also propose that members who did opt-in to our new two-part retainer would be free to declare full, some or no availability from one week to the next. An IT solution would allow station staff to remotely check and bid for availability hours. If there were more firefighters seeking to declare availability for a certain period than minimum staffing required then a computer would allocate the availability hours – and therefore the hourly retainer payments – according to pre-agreed rules. This would ensure the equitable allocation of hours while also reducing the workload of Captains and Deputy Captains.
This was explained in more detail in SITREP 44, but we further propose that firefighters who declared availability and then failed to respond within 20 minutes of a call would be denied payment of the hourly retainer until the next call they actually attended or the end that particular availability period. A firefighter who failed to do so on three or more occasions in any 12 month period would be unable to declare availability for 4 weeks. Reasons for failure to respond would not be taken into account but equally, firefighters who failed to respond would not be required to explain their non-response and would not be subject to disciplinary action as a result of their non-response.
Key areas of agreement between the Union and Department
- We agree that retained firefighters are currently free to attend, or not attend, any call.
- We agree that periods of guaranteed availability deserve recognition by way of an hourly payment.
- We agree that this payment should commence at around $1.30 per hour (they say $1.26). We also agree that while this is not enough, the O’Farrell Government’s IR laws mean it can’t be any higher.
- We agree that the hourly availability payment would be limited to the number of firefighters required to staff each appliance at their station at any given point in time (eg, 4 or 6, etc.).
- We agree that all retained firefighters would continue to respond to calls, not only those who were receiving the availability payment. With one exception. Only members who had declared their availability would be called while ever a permanent firefighter or a retained firefighter from another brigade on stand-by, was required to maintain a station’s safe and effective minimum staffing.
- We agree there would be consequences for non-response during periods of declared availability.
Key differences between the Union and Department positions
- The Union keeps availability optional. The Department makes it compulsory.
- The Union keeps the current incident kilometre payments. The Department abolishes them.
- The Union keeps (admittedly reduced) fortnightly retainers. The Department abolishes them.
- The Union recognises the Deputy Captain rank with a higher base retainer. The Department does not.
- The Union keeps the attendance requirements at Clause 28. The Department abolishes them.
- The Union has a detailed position on non-response. The Department is silent on this crucial point.
Problems with the Department’s position
Where do we start? There has never been a requirement for retained members to respond to an incident or to guarantee availability for a certain period, and with the crumbs on offer here under O’Farrell’s public sector wages policy, now is certainly not the time to introduce one. Availability commitments and related payments should operate as an incentive, not an obligation, and therefore remain optional.
Scrapping the kilometre payments and cutting the stand-by rate by 50% are crude cost saving measures that have nothing to do with availability. Management at one stage even suggested cutting the hourly rates for drills in half, but thankfully then had the good sense to abandon that as a bridge too far.
The Union abandoned the idea of using the kilometres to fund an availability payment when it became clear that it was not only deeply unpopular with members, but also deeply unfair. Why? Because kilometre payments are directly tied to brigade and member activity and availability payments are not. While the effort required to have a crew available 24/7 is, generally speaking, the same for a brigade doing 50 calls per year as it is for a brigade doing 500, the effort required to attend the same percentage of calls is not (at 60% it’s the difference between 1 and 11 calls every fortnight). It follows that you can’t use the kilometres to fund an availability payment without dudding higher call rate members and brigades.
And to argue that Captains and Deputy Captains can make up for their loss of retainers by working more authorised duties is just offensive. Only the Department would attempt to cut your pay and then tell you that you won’t be worse off because you can work more hours.
The Department wants to raid your existing Award conditions to fund its availability payment. Not to help fund it, as the Union’s proposal does, but to fund it 100%. The Department is not recognising or rewarding availability, it’s reaching into your pocket to pay you with your own money.
The next step from here will be determined by the IRC’s President-elect, Justice Walton. As we reported in SITREP 44, “His Honour made it clear to both parties that the time was fast approaching when he would decide that conciliation had failed, at which point the Judge would then determine any non-agreed matters by arbitration.”
Time will shortly tell whether the Judge thinks, as we do, that there is still scope for an agreement.