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Issue #1559      8 August 2012

NSW firefighters fight funding cuts

Nothing is sacred when it comes to the budget-slashing O’Farrell government, not even when the lives of people are at stake. The Liberal premier has ordered Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) management to cut employee-related costs by $25 million per annum. According to the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU), “The only way this can be achieved is by cutting overtime, wages, conditions and/or jobs.”

The union said the savings required exceed the entire FRNSW overtime bill, so even the complete elimination of all overtime (an impossible goal) would still not be enough to avoid job cuts.

Management has developed a number of strategies to meet the government’s cost-cutting. The centrepiece is taking stations off line at different times, putting public lives and property at risk.

And contrary to Commissioner Mullins’ repeated and very public assurances, the Department plans to jettison safe and effective minimum staffing levels of four by preparing to order crews of only two to respond on pumping appliances.

“Stand by for bag-loads of management spin about safe crewing levels being needed on the fireground, but not on a truck,” the union warned.

Commissioner Mullins has urged the union to work with him “to avoid the prospect of workforce reductions”.

The union has been in discussions with the Commissioner and expressed its preparedness to consider different ways of doing things, but has ruled out cutting existing award wages or conditions. This leaves a reduction in overtime as the only option left before job cuts.

The FRBEU had supported a reduction of overtime via extra permanent and retained firefighter jobs and a reduction in firefighters’ sick leave before this budget crisis hit. “We will continue to do so,” the officials said. But it remains opposed to taking permanent stations off line as a cost-cutting measure.

It rightly asks, once started, where would it stop? Does anyone seriously believe that the Department will continue to run with 630 permanent relieving staff when it can simply close a station instead? “It is not the answer – it is the start of a race to the bottom and a guarantee of more job cuts, not less.”

Likewise it remains firmly opposed to any reduction to safe and effective minimum staffing levels.

The FBEU has notified the Industrial Relations Commission of a dispute and requested that FRNSW take no action in the meantime until the matter is heard.

Meanwhile the union has advised its members to follow well established arrangements irrespective of any direction or order to the contrary from FRNSW management.  

Next article – Asbestos alert

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