March 4, 2020
March Sgm Agenda amendment
We asked FRNSW to confirm by 12pm Wednesday, 4 March 2020, their final position on your 2.5% wage increase being backdated to 17 February 2020 regardless of when the Awards are finalised. The deadline to resolve this one outstanding issue has now passed without resolution. Because FRNSW continues to refuse to backdate your wage increase, we will have to return to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (NSW IRC) on Thursday, 5 March 2020 to arbitrate this matter.
As you know, we have been negotiating with FRNSW in good faith around each Award claim. With respect to the Permanent Award, the one claim that required our continued goodwill was the introduction of Intrastate Deployments into existing clause 12(a). The government had not given FRNSW the bargaining parameters around this proposed claim/change to the Award but both parties agreed to continue to negotiate around it as we knew it was important to the membership.
That said, given the continued refusal from the government and FRNSW to backdate the 2.5% wage increase, we will now look to remove the proposed variations made to clause 12(a) as described above. Instead, affected members will be asked to vote on the following:
- The draft Permanent Award without the revised clause 12a Interstate and International Deployments contained in the document. This Award is the proposed instrument that includes all items otherwise agreed to in principle by both parties.
- The revised clause 12a Intrastate, Interstate and International Deployments as a stand-alone clause.
For retained members, our proposed Award as distributed on 28 February 2020 remains the same. Also, the D&D Award remains the same except for an adjustment that is required in clause 17: Area Incidence and Duration, which will now reference the new expiration date.
In light of the above development, the agenda for all SGMs will now need to change to allow for the two votes which can be found here. The updated Permanent Award can be found here and 12A Award clause here.
WE BELIEVE YOU DESERVE A PROPER WAGE INCREASE
As your Union, we believe that you deserve a higher pay increase than the 2.5% you’ve been receiving each year. We live in a time where wage growth has remained stagnant whilst the cost of living has increased. The work you do is dangerous and demanding both physically and psychologically.
We value the work you do and believe you deserve more money in your pockets.
THE GOVERNMENT’S WAGES POLICY
In a recent SitRep we talked about the NSW Government Wages Policy (“Wages Policy”) and why it’s bad for firefighters. We are raising this again today because it is key to understanding the risks associated with a pay parity case.
The Wages Policy applies to the entire public sector and it includes other frontline emergency services like NSW Police and the NSW Ambulance Service.
The Wages Policy is a regressive policy that restricts how Unions bargain and limits your pay increases to 2.5% each year.
Before the Wages Policy was introduced, we were able to negotiate for higher pay increases. In 2011, however, the Wages Policy was introduced which means that there is no meaningful way for us to achieve a higher pay increase without sacrificing your other existing Award entitlements/conditions. This means that any pay increase given to public sector employees above the 2.5% “cap” must be funded by cutting other existing Award entitlements. In other words, whatever the total amount of the pay increase costs must be funded by finding an equal amount to cut from your other existing Award entitlements (e.g. if your pay increase costs $1M then $1M in other conditions (such as leave entitlements) must be cut to fund the $1M pay increase.
This is the challenge the FBEU and every other public sector union in NSW face because people voted in a government that introduced this wage policy in order to save money by attacking the wages and conditions of all public sector employees.
As a Union, it would be disingenuous to tell you otherwise or sugar-coat where we are at collectively.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR RUNNING A PAY PARITY CASE?
Cases around work value, pay parity or pay equity can be made via an application in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (“NSW IRC”).
These claims are based on the argument that a certain classification of employee deserves more money because the work they do, compared to other similar classifications of employees, has changed so significantly that it warrants the creation of a new classification or that a significant pay increase is needed to remedy the inequity.
The issue is that even if a case was successful, meaning the NSW IRC determined that the work performed by a certain classification of employee has been undervalued, the Wages Policy would still apply. This means that in order to fund a pay increase higher than 2.5% in order to properly compensate this class of employees, the total amount of the pay increase would then have to be taken out of the other conditions/entitlements of these employees. Essentially this means that all your Award conditions would be open for negotiation so that a pay increase above 2.5% could be funded. For example, the Health Services Union ran a case for the helicopter paramedics. The IRC determined the helicopter paramedics had, indeed, been underpaid, but there still had to be cuts to conditions elsewhere in their Award to fund the pay increase.
We also need to note that it is possible that the IRC could determine that only specific ranks are entitled to a wage increase, which would become incredibly divisive given that all employees (including employees at ranks that are not found entitled to a pay increase) would end up “trading off” their existing Award conditions to fund an increase for only a few.
The only exception to this “trade-off” requirement has been in special cases where it was proven that a class of employees were underpaid due to some sort of discrimination.
For example, the Public Service Association (“PSA”) ran a case on behalf of administrative support staff at public schools claiming that they had been historically underpaid due to their gender. This case was filed in 2016 and was not determined by the IRC until 2019. The IRC found that the employees had, indeed, been discriminated against due to their gender and ruled in favour of a pay increase of 19% over a 3 year period (totalling $1.4M) but that this pay increase did not require a “trade off” in their other conditions.
If this case had been a standard work-value case without the discrimination element, however, then the PSA would have had to assist the government in finding “trade-off” cost savings.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO RUN A PAY PARITY CASE?
Before it even reaches the point of an application within the NSW IRC, as a Union we would need to determine whether there is an actual case to run.
To determine this we would need to start with the following:
- Review the job description for each individual rank and compare this to the actual individual tasks performed
- Determine how each rank and role has evolved over the years
- Compare this information to the rank and job descriptions verses tasks performed in all other states
- Look at existing NSW legislation and relevant legislation in other states
- Look at what current allowances and other penalties apply to more complex work/tasks already being performed
- Engage outside solicitors/counsel who would advise us on our prospects
As you can imagine, this is an incredibly resource and time-intensive process that cannot happen in a few weeks, and there is no guarantee that our claim would be successful with the NSW IRC. More importantly, however, even if we were successful in achieving a pay increase, due to the Wages Policy, it would still have to be funded by a “trade off” with your other existing conditions and entitlements. It’s essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Given this, the FBEU believes that our focus should instead be on fighting the Wages Policy. It will take the whole public sector workforce and the broader union movement to challenge the Wages Policy and our members will need to get active and campaign over many months and possibly years to achieve this.