COVID UPDATE

As reported in Wordback No 03/2022, a myriad of important questions raised by UFUSA members in relation to COVID matters have been directed by your union to the SAMFS Chief Officer, without a response to date. Disappointingly with recent events, the questions continue to mount.

In addition to those outlined in the last Wordback, we have sought further information on behalf of members but while certain senior managers are trying notably to do their best to be consultative and work through problems, at this critical time the Chief Officer remains strangely silent and absent from discussion or even correspondence back to your elected representatives.

There has clearly been time though, for him to issue an ill-considered personal letter to hundreds of members this week by registered mail, containing allegations of misconduct in failing to comply with the Chief Officer’s Directive as contained in Memorandum No 2 of 2022, to disclose vaccination status by 14 January 2022.

For some there is no clear answer as to why they received the letter while for others it appears that the MFS systems were ineffective in managing the receipt and recording of responses. This situation clearly illustrates the value of consultation prior to actions which affect members, being taken by management.

The expense incurred by the MFS in preparing and issuing these letters by registered mail is concerning, particularly when it appears an audit was not conducted into the “non-compliance” prior to sending them. Or if it was, some serious questions arise which should provide lessons for the future. It is reported to us that management say there was no “easy way” to filter responses and that “… those managing these things are under the pump and are operating under significant time constraints and that sometimes (as it turned out on this occasion) they may not have fully considered all of the variables or downstream impacts of these decisions.”

It is concerning that the cost of this bungle is far more than simple dollar terms, given the impact on so many of our firefighters. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction by management but many members who had in fact complied with the directive were highly distressed to receive the communication.
It is reported that some respondents missed the closing date by a day or two and so received the registered letter. FYI, due to concern about the tight timeframes, I contacted the Chief Officer on 12 January seeking an extension of time and kindly received his verbal undertaking that responses would be accepted up to COB Tuesday 18 January 2022.

Many others had been or were on leave and unaware of the directive; some of these members were on leave due to serious conditions caused by their work as firefighters. Real care and concern by the MFS for the psychological health and well-being of our members has been demonstrated repeatedly as severely lacking. Calls and emails have been received by our office from members beside themselves that their colleagues who they care deeply about, have suffered setbacks because of receiving the SAMFS registered letter alleging misconduct and threatening discipline reaction.

As conveyed to the Chief Officer in our correspondence to him of 9 February 2022, the UFU does not oppose vaccines approved by ATAGI to protect the health of members and the community, however it is essential that any direction given is reasonable and suited to the circumstances including any appropriate alternatives available.

We are advised that where the MFS determines there is compliance the matter will be closed (and we suggest an apology extended) and where the MFS determines that “If however, on the balance of probabilities it is determined that actions have been wilful and deliberate, the Chief will be issuing those staff with a reprimand pursuant to s46 of the FES Act.

Following extensive discussions with those charged with now managing this debacle, it is understood that an audit is currently being undertaken of those to whom the letter from the Chief Officer was addressed, with the intention of personal contact being made with those impacted.

Members affected by this issue can receive advice and assistance on the matter by contacting us at info@ufusa.com.au at your earliest opportunity.

Meanwhile, the Emergency Management (Metropolitan Fire Service Workers Vaccination) (Covid 19) Direction 2022 comes into force this weekend with questions raised by members affected, largely remaining unanswered by the employer. It is understood and appreciated that the MFS does intend to issue a memorandum to provide guidance on employment arrangements for the transition.

As above, our union has sought information in relation to a wide range of related matters, such as the rationale for and timing of the decision, the processes and arrangements regarding access to and use of leave, access to working from home, use of standbys and leave swaps, contingency plans for any significant reduction to the workforce, return to work provisions and arrangements where an employee subsequently complies with the mandate, access to Covid leave where there is an adverse reaction to a vaccination, and more.

We are also advocating priority access for essential workers who wish to use Novavax, for no break in continuity of service, an employment guarantee for once the mandate is repealed, no discrimination in relation to promotions and selection for courses or roles, clear accurate and timely communication to employees from the employer and effective consultation with your union.

It is frustrating not to have the information necessary to answer all of your questions and upsetting to witness such distress, however if your employment is negatively affected, please contact our office for individual advice and assistance.

Everyone has their own point of view and worries but welfare concerns remain paramount, and members are strongly encouraged by all on our State Council to reach out to your mates and see if they are okay. Maintaining our relationships in solidarity through these difficult times is critical so please try to be kind to yourself and to others and reach out if you need help.

In solidarity

COVID UPDATE

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