REPORT ON THE YEAR IN REVIEW 

UFUSA 2023 Year In Review

Our UFU Annual General Meeting held last week received reports and reflected on the year that was, as well as considering strategy and proposals to take our union strongly into 2024. Thank you to all of you who were able to get there, it was great to see you.

President Chas Thomas and I are conscious that it was not possible for everyone to make it to the meeting and we have taped a short message (well fairly short message) to you which can be accessed below.

Members will recall that 2023 commenced with the implementation of the outcomes achieved in our Safety and Resourcing Campaign and our SAMFS Enterprise Agreement, notably the timely payment of our wage increases and backpay, overwhelmingly endorsed by members in December 2022. 

The change of government in SA in March 2022 brought a welcome cultural change in terms of an emphasis on effective consultation with workers and your unions, however disappointment was expressed at the AGM that there are still some in management who continue to fail to understand the true nature and importance of consultation. 

Any doubt about this is dispelled for example by a current issue whereby our union is seeking a written commitment that the employer will consult, as required, before making a decision to outsource; a blunt refusal has been received followed by a one line email telling us that the ACFO involved can’t meet next Wednesday to discuss it because he’ll “be on an RDO” 

This is an ongoing challenge in the SAMFS, requiring ongoing resources from your union, in this instance, just to set up a meeting! As you would expect we do now have a meeting and will continue to pursue the issue, but you won’t be surprised that this problem and others referred to in previous Wordbacks continually emerge from the same senior manager. 

Reflecting on my annual report of December 2022 however, it is important to also acknowledge some important strides forward since that time, driven by personnel changes and a stronger understanding within senior management of the importance of cooperation together with a welcome more positive attitude toward working with our union by upcoming managers. So there is definitely great hope for the future and in particular for initiatives to rebuild the very low morale reported consistently in our workforce. 

Many members are discussing further imminent changes to come and the possibility of developing a less toxic culture in the fire service and an enhanced level of care for employees in this precarious industry. We must always be vigilant, and we will be, even as we use every opportunity to ensure positive outcomes for members and the service provided to the community about which members care so deeply. 

The economic environment continues to be extremely challenging as we confront the commencement of our next EA negotiations in 2024. Profits have continued to soar and wages flatline in the economy generally and even as interest rates soar, we note that public sector wage outcomes continue to be modest. 

These are challenges we are preparing to confront in 2024 together with issues such as the impact of environmental and climate change, the ongoing introduction of new technology, the extension ‘creep’ of the role of firefighters, urban growth, understaffing, reliance on overtime, act ups and GADs, and the need for enhanced training and development including the resourcing to deliver these. 

Members have continued to express concern in relation to the increasing regularity in which they are called upon to either assist or replace paramedics and assist other agencies and we are advised that data indicates this work has now reached around 10% of MFS callouts. The training by SAAS which we fought so hard to get, has been welcomed by members however the extension of our skills and the additional and growing work remain matters to be addressed with the employer. 

The internal reviews intended to be carried out through 2023, some of which are not yet finalised include Regional Operations, Engineering, Marine and a proper conclusion to the review of Fire Cause Investigations. The Minister has also recently announced a review of disciplinary processes following the events of 2023 and it will clearly be important to ensure there is an understanding that the causes of the problems experienced by UFU members have been poor management behaviour, toxic culture and irresponsible decision-making rather than just being down to problems with regulations and processes. In some cases there must certainly be appropriate action including apologies. 

Many issues our union deals with on a day-to-day basis for members include the frequency and complexity of under and over payments which frankly simply defy belief and are currently subject to a joint review. We hope that we are moving to a higher level of professional understanding of the legal nature of the provisions contained in our Awards and Agreements, less errors and more rigour. And hopefully a better understanding by the employer of the impact on employees of these matters. 

Implementation of agreements reached in negotiations is another area of disappointment – just two examples are the payment of training to Retained Firefighter Recruits, and a lack of progress on providing galatea jackets to all recruit squads from January 2018, however we are assured by management such matters are now receiving attention. 

Our union is required to continue to dedicate significant resources to assist members injured at work who continue to receive poor services from SAFECOM, with this agency appearing to prefer to play games with the UFU rather than get on with their job and look after those who put themselves at risk to protect our community. These matters are receiving ongoing close attention however meanwhile unfortunately the impact on members along the way, is often severe. 

A large part of our union resourcing has been dedicated to defending and advancing members’ wages and conditions, fighting for the highest standards of WHS, extending and pursuing the rights of members injured at work and for the families of those who have died from industrial diseases, fighting for the correct pay and leave entitlements of many members, retaining our gold standard PPE, defending and seeking justice for the multiple members involved in disciplinary investigations and charges, following up on the implementation of promises made in our resourcing campaign, and importantly participating in collective union actions such as reforming WHS in SA with the introduction of industrial manslaughter legislation. 

Legal challenges, EA negotiations with Ventia, internal reviews, MFS consultative and advisory committees, recruitment, promotion and training issues, concerns with SAFECOM and Shared Services, and ALP and SA Union matters have combined to ensure our agenda remains a very busy one. We also actively represent the interests of members in areas such as Superannuation, the SAFECOM Board, Diversity and Inclusion, Recruitment, Vehicles and Equipment, Strategic Capability, the Sector Advisory Committee, Disciplinary Committees, SA Unions, and the ALP. 

In addition, throughout 2023 our union participated in the state government reviews of the SA Employment Tribunal, the workers rehabilitation and compensation system and Safe Work SA. 

Back at the union office, we’ve continued the work through 2023 to upgrade and maintain the UFUSA building which our union owns outright, and which increases in value with every step we take to maintain and improve it. More work is required but we’re definitely getting there and we are deeply grateful to those who come and give your own time to help out at our continual working bees. 

As I know I have said previously, the importance of the contribution of members elected to union office is critical and the leadership qualities which have developed and emerged inspire great confidence in the future of our union. Our 13 State Councillors are a varied group which makes us stronger collectively and I’m very grateful for how generously they continue to give of their personal time. Our Shop Steward structure is the foundation of the strength and organisation of our union, and the energy, time and dedication displayed by UFU Shop Stewards is the envy of other unions. No matter how tough the conversations at our meetings, the diversity of views strengthens us, the maturity of the debate sustains us and the courage of the conviction in the room shines through, and I never fail to be energised by the power of that group. Thank you all and I look forward to a reinvigoration of our representative structures and training in 2024 in order to rise up and meet the challenges ahead. 

And as we gear up for 2024 and the commencement of our negotiations for the next SAMFS Enterprise Agreement, it is critical that we continue to have a collective and united approach in order to achieve the best outcomes for members in a challenging economic environment. 

As Secretary I am in awe of and am deeply grateful for how our staff and our officials go above and beyond any call of duty in service to our union. And with UFUSA Members actively demonstrating your understanding that you are the union and that you are not afraid to exercise the power of collective action where needed, together we make a difference! Thank you. 

UFUSA FINANCIAL REPORT 

The AGM received the financial reports from our independent auditor Mr Graeme Kent and following discussion, endorsed those reports. Importantly, it was noted that while still in a strong financial position we have expended more than our income in the financial year to 30 June 2023, requiring a good hard look at how we continue to grow and fund our union activities, rebuild our reserves and ensure that we are in the strongest position to effectively confront the challenges of 2024 and beyond. 

Your State Council has invested much time and effort in carefully developing the proposal for a fee increase from 1 February 2024 as reported in Wordback 19/2023. The proposal was recommended to the AGM last week and was unanimously endorsed.


Per fortnight 

Now 

Feb 2024 
MFS Full Time 41.00 45.10 
Engineering 25.00 27.50 
Apprentice Rate 9.40 10.35 
Retained 9.40 10.35 
Ventia (per week) 35.50 39.05 

It is never easy to increase fees however we believe that we have kept the fee increase as low as possible and that it is still lower than for most comparable unions. 

For the vast majority of UFU members the increase sought is $2.05 per week (or $4.10 per fortnight) thank you for your support and be assured that all subscriptions are and will continue to be put to work on the issues outlined above, for members. 

PAY INCREASE EFFECTIVE FROM 1 JANUARY 2024 

Just a reminder to members that the next pay increase of 3% under the current SAMFS Enterprise Agreement is effective from the first full pay period on or after 1 January 2024. 

RULE CHANGE TO INTRODUCE ELECTRONIC BALLOT FOR UNION ELECTIONS 

Proposed UFUSA Rule changes to enable members to vote in our union elections by electronic means from 2024 were unanimously endorsed by our AGM last week. 

The highlighted changes can be accessed via this link https://www.ufusa.com.au/rules-united-fire-fighters-of-south-australia/

In solidarity 

REPORT ON THE YEAR IN REVIEW 

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United Fire Fighters Union Of South Australia - UFUSA

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