As reported in Wordback No 3 of 2021, a meeting was held with the employer (DCO Fletcher, ACFO Button, and Ms Somerville, of the MFS together with Mr Johnson and Ms Porter of the IRAP Branch of the Department of Treasury and Finance) last Friday, 22 January 2021, to attempt to continue to pursue enterprise bargaining negotiations.
The UFU proposed the meeting on the basis that we would continue to raise the existing serious risks to firefighter and public safety and seek to persuade the employer of the need to take significant action to provide firefighters with the resources necessary for a safer workplace. And of course we did continue to do that.
As members know from previous Wordbacks, we have offered that the matter of adequate resourcing which impacts on firefighter safety, be dealt with either within or outside of the enterprise agreement (EA) negotiations, only to meet smoke and mirrors i.e. media protestations by Mr Marshall that he is “listening respectfully” to firefighters while not even meeting with us, and a stonewall on any discussion of resourcing (see the Treasurer’s comment in The Advertiser of 16 January 2021 that there will be no more resources provided to the MFS).
At the meeting last Friday, the employer’s negotiators advised that their instructions in relation to resourcing have not changed and they would not discuss resourcing.
We were advised rather that they had four issues of priority which they wished to pursue at the meeting and these were: Port Pirie Staffing, Single Bargaining Centre, Fatigue Management and a proposal for Training over 7 days.
Port Pirie Staffing
It turned out that this heading did not in fact relate to staffing at Port Pirie but instead relates to our original proposal that a Regional Allowance be developed for members deployed to regional stations. The employer had said they would provide a draft of how they would like a regional allowance to operate however they have to date solely focused on Port Pirie so this claim has not been progressed. In the interim, the employer has refused to pay the Port Pirie allowances applicable under the Award and the matter is now subject to underpayment legal proceedings in the Employment Tribunal. Our union sought that the MFS outline how they intend to develop Regional Operations as they have been rather ad hoc in recent years and this might help to develop common ground. We are advised that there is shortly to be a 2 day forum on Regional Operations so we can expect the development of a “strategic overview”.
Single Bargaining Centre (SBC)
The employer seeks to eliminate the SBC which operates under clause 13 of the current EA Grievance and Dispute Avoidance Procedures. The SBC is essentially a process which allows the parties to a dispute to get together with an external facilitator to seek a resolution before problems escalate. This is a common process in industrial relations and has served the MFS well on many occasions. Unfortunately it seems there are those who bear a grudge in relation to recent findings of the SBC wherein for example the union won the interim 2% pay increase operative from 1 July 2019. It is notable that the employer’s reason for seeking the elimination of the SBC changes on each occasion it is discussed.
The employer seeks that we agree to a clause to go into the EA that a fatigue management policy will be agreed to and implemented within 12 months.
The UFU has consistently raised the need for a fatigue management policy and the employer’s WHS obligation in this respect, to date without a response. A bit confusing as the MFS’ current ‘urgent’ policy review is for us to agree on a “social media” policy which looks more like a muzzle on freedom of speech by employees. And when we asked why a fatigue management policy is required in the EA, the answer suggests that it is simply to force us into agreeing to a policy the employer proposes which will include mandatory limits on overtime. It is recognised that there are WHS arguments for overtime limits however much depends on what they are and how they are applied. We have less and less faith in the competence of the administration of the MFS however we will continue to try to work with the MFS on a fatigue management policy through the WHS Committee.
Training over 7 days
We are told that this is about the employer’s wish to change the daily work routine or in other words, removing passive time on weekend days and performing more drills, plug testing and familiarisation visits in these periods. The MFS said that they reckon they’d get a 33% increase in productivity by going to the seven-day model and an increase in in-service courses from 3 to 4 per annum. We asked a number of questions about this and a copy of the MFS analysis supporting the employer’s claim will be provided.
Issues raised by our UFU negotiating team included: a repeated request for attendance by the CO at negotiations, an accurate payslip, delivery of the employer undertakings under the EA 2017, Retained Firefighter claims which have received no response from the employer to date, lack of training instructor staff, manual handling training, enhanced first aid training, the need for promotions, concerns about the Service Directive No 01/2021 and the faulty deluge systems.
We once again took the opportunity to strongly raise our concerns in relation to our concerns about the manner in which management is approaching up-skilling of already qualified Senior Firefighters level 2 and the spin on it (putting it nicely) by senior managers out in meetings at stations. The UFU advocates for opportunities for up skilling, with members encouraged and supported to participate, NOT an opaque process backed in by fear and harsh disciplinary measures with threats of reduction of salaries and rank. The current exercise is a travesty and is NOT what was agreed. The employer has been advised of a dispute and more on the employer’s ducking and weaving to avoid that dispute is coming out by email to the members concerned.
In response to our query, the employer advised that they are now looking at a wage increase in line with the recent SA Water EA of around 1.2% per annum and that they are resolved that any increase will require “efficiencies”. Our response was that we are focused on safety and resourcing and that in an emergency services organisation with such scant resources, trade-offs are not a responsible approach. We will return to the issue of a fair wage increase at an appropriate time in the future.
Our union reiterated the issues relating to safety caused by lack of adequate resourcing and the concerns being expressed by members, particularly in the current bushfire season. Management representatives present again indicated that they have their instructions but upon our urging, they kindly agreed to communicate to the Premier and Treasurer our request for a meeting.
After our return to the union office late on Friday afternoon after the meeting, I received a call from the representative from the Department of Treasury and Finance to advise that the Treasurer/Minister for Industrial Relations Mr Lucas has now agreed to meet with us. A date and time for that meeting is currently being arranged. Members will be kept informed.
Visits by delegations of firefighters to Members of Parliament are continuing in order to inform them about the importance of our campaign and to seek their support. 3
Our union will continue in our campaign and attempts to progress the issues which were endorsed for EA negotiations, prioritising firefighter safety/resourcing. An updated report on the negotiations and campaigning will be provided to a meeting of Shop Stewards and State Council being organised for February. Thank you in the meantime for all your messages of solidarity and support.
Thank you to all of you who are sending information in about the current fires being fought; our advocacy for better resources are enhanced by accurate information in relation to what’s going on. The breakdown of SRG2 en route to join a strike team today, is a case in point.
Your commitment and courage is inspiring and greatly appreciated by us all; please take care out there and know that we will continue to advocate strongly for appropriate resourcing to assist you in protecting our community and keeping yourself and your crew safe.
In an additional step in our campaign our union has commenced an online petition in response to all those who wish to support firefighters and send a direct message to the Marshall government. You can access the UFUSA petition on our Facebook page here, or the petition on our website here.
Thank you to those of you who have already signed the petition and we ask that you to forward it on to as many others as possible and urge them to also support our campaign by signing the petition and sharing it.