MFS UNDER-RESOURCED

SA Gov ESFC

In February 2020 the Chief Executive of the SA Fire & Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM), Dominic Lane, published his 47 page Analysis of SA’s Fire & Emergency Services (a copy of which we previously published on our website here), following a review of the sector he was apparently asked to do by the Minister. 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Mr Lane’s Analysis makes numerous “findings and recommendations” in the Analysis that point toward control of the sector shifting from the MFS, CFS and SES into the hands of the non-operational bureaucrat (Mr Lane). 

As if amnesia has wiped his memory of the cost blowouts and failed delivery of the implementation and roll out of Emerald and SAFECOM Headquarter projects, Mr Lane takes aim at the MFS “budget overspends” rather than self-reflect in the SAFECOM mirror. 

Although it doesn’t take too much to call Mr Lane on a number of his assertions, we looked at stats ourselves, including from the Productivity Commission, Australian Bureau of Statistics, as well as Treasury, SAFECOM and the MFS, to fact check Mr Lane’s Analysis line by line. 

On 16 June we provided Mr Lane with our 49 page written response that not only reveals numerous findings are false and misleading, but points out the glaring failures of SAFECOM itself including Mr Lane’s flagrant disregard for the Fire & Emergency Services (FES) Act and failure to even tell the Board he was doing the review let alone even consult with members. 

RESEARCH

Our research shows that the sector has been and continues to be chronically underfunded not just across successive years but relative to other States and Territories. For example, 

  • Per capita funding to the SA fire services sector has dropped in four (4) of the 10 budgets to 2019, with SA funding increasing, in real terms, by only $22.76 per person during this same time, putting SA funding today almost $30 per person less than the Australian average (see Graph 2). 
  • Firefighting and support full-time equivalents (FTEs) have also been slashed, with the sector today having 6 FTEs less than in 2009, putting the sector six (6) FTEs below the Australian average. 
  • Investment in appliances is at historically low levels, with the percentage of MFS fleet requiring replacement within two (2) years increasing from 7.4% to 25% over the last 5 years, and the percentage of times the MFS were able to maintain fleet reserves of at least 2 appliances plummeting to 16.53% (from 90%!) over the same time period. 

Far from sitting merely ‘in the middle’ when compared with other States and Territories as Mr Lane boldly asserts, SA outperforms other States and Territories in, eg, community preparedness, consistently reporting less accidental residential structure fires per capita than the national average, and recording the lowest per capita number nation-wide in 2018-19 (see Graph 6). 

The sector must be adequately funded so that budgets are met, and so that you can continue to protect the community and property as the stats shows you do! 

Mr Lane has not only failed in identifying the key problems in the sector, he continues to act without the authority of the SAFECOM Board (including in the commissioning of the Analysis itself) and recommends concentration of control of project managment and finances in SAFECOM, all of which is contrary to the FES Act. 

The UFUSA cannot sit by and watch Mr Lane take over the sector; we cannot abide members’ operational responsibilities being subverted by SAFECOM. Mr Lane’s empire building must stop; Mr Lane must stand down. 

You can read a copy of the UFUSA response on our website here. 

ENTERPRISE AGREEMENT (EA) REPORT 

Negotiations for our next enterprise agreement recommenced with a meeting between the parties last Thursday, 18 June 2020. 

Our union is disappointed by the lack of progress made and the clear and stated objective of the employer to continue to use the negotiations to seek “efficiencies” in the MFS. 

No one wants efficiency in the fire service more than firefighters who are left to grapple and make do with what are often old appliances, a dearth of “fit for purpose” replacement trucks, competition to equip appliances appropriately, inadequate access to strained training resources, not to mention safety concerns such as the common absence of BOPS on strike team appliances. 

If serious about seeking real efficiency, this is surely where to start. 

But no, the employer continues to refuse to even discuss the issue of resourcing. 

SA Government budget cuts to MFS.

The “efficiency” sought by the employer is not true efficiency at all but rather is more poorly disguised, ham-fisted cost cutting of the MFS, making the work even harder and less safe for members as well as being inefficient

In fact, our research conducted as part of the UFUSA response to SAFECOM CEO Dominic Lane’s Analysis, reveals that from 2009 to 2019, SA fire service capital and labour costs dropped in two (2) out of the 10 budgets during that period, and that expenditure per person is consistently less than the Australian average (in 2018/19 SA contributed $171.11 in labour and capital expenditure per person compared with $196.55 Australia-wide, a difference of $25.44 per person: see paragraphs 221-228 of the UFUSA response at link above).Our UFU negotiating team listened patiently as cost cutting measures were outlined to us by the employer. But it’s fair to say that our response to the employer when it came, might be characterised as “robust”, and the employer was left with in no doubt that cost cutting road they are on, is unworkable and unacceptable to firefighters. 

The employer received the clarion message “Enough!”. 

Our Union devotes a great deal of time and members’ money on assisting the Service to run effectively, but members tell us you have had enough. ‘And we’re not going to take any more.’ 

No date for the next meeting has yet been set as the employer has taken our message back for discussion and further consideration. 

As clearly articulated in the UFUSA response to the SAFECOM CEO Dominic Lane’s Analysis of the sector the “blood” has clearly already all been squeezed from this particular “stone”. 

Our UFU submissions to both the SA Bushfire Review and to the national Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements also reflect, as UFU members know to be true, that inadequate resourcing leads not just to inefficiency, but presents serious risk to firefighters and our community. 

The MFS Expenditure Review initiated by SAFECOM CEO which was due by the end of 2019, was provided to the Cabinet some months ago but strangely has not yet seen the light of day. 

Perhaps it has not delivered on its objective to recommend further cost slashing? 

Members will be kept informed. 

NO CONSULTATION RE MFS EO 

MFS management recently mentioned that following the 2019 EOC Report, they have retained the services of a contractor to work in the area of diversity and inclusion. 

As there has been absolutely no consultation about this matter, some surprise was expressed by us. While we understand that a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee has been established by the MFS and we have nominated UFU Industrial Officer Jaspreet Kaur as a member of it, we have not as yet been invited to any meetings nor do we have any information on this initiative. Not a great start. 

An invitation will be extended to D&I implementation contractor, Ms Sally Woolford, to address the next meeting of State Council on 11 July, to outline her role within the Wellness Department which we now understand is to address issues and recommendations raised by both the EOC report and the ‘Your Say’ survey. 

REGIONAL ALLOWANCE 

The UFU has lodged legal claims for members entitled to the backpay of Port Pirie allowances to 2010, with the SA Employment Tribunal. It is anticipated that the matter will commence in the SAET in July. 

In the meantime, the UFU has listed the matter of a regional allowance, for negotiation in the EA, seeking to provide for a regional attraction and retention allowance, not limited to Port Pirie. While it is a modest amount in comparison to entitlements in other public-sector areas of employment such as SAPOL, it is a starting point to correct historical oversights. 

Disappointingly, the employer appears not keen to progress the matter but still wonders why regional appointments pose such problems… 4 

SA BUSHFIRE REVIEW 

The UFUSA yesterday filed a supplementary submission to the Independent Review into South Australia’s 2019 – 20 Bushfire Season which covers a number of issues raised at the UFUSA hearing before Mr Keelty in April. Mr Keelty is due to report back to Minister on 30 June, with report hopefully being made public shortly after that. A copy of the UFUSA’s written submission and supplementary submission can now be found on our website here. 

COMMONWEALTH BUSHFIRES ROYAL COMMISSION 

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (the Bushfire Royal Commission) continues, with the Commission dealing with hazard reduction last week and local government responsibilities this week. The next two weeks of hearings will be about State and Territory government response, which we anticipate will include firefighter evidence.

In solidarity, 

MFS UNDER-RESOURCED

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United Fire Fighters Union Of South Australia - UFUSA

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