Firefighter News: Fire Service still resisting IFE payments based on prior learning; the new Fire and Emergency Service

Posted: August 7, 2016 by Admin in At the coalface, Class Matters, Firefighters, New Zealand politics, Workers history, Workers' rights

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by Susanne Kemp

In an earlier article on Redline on March 11, we reported on how the Fire Service was refusing to make the proper payments to firefighters who have been awarded the IFE  (Institution of Fire Engineers) qualification.  In fact, as we reported, last November the Fire Service stopped processing applications by firefighters for the qualification bonus associated with the IFE where the qualification was awarded on the basis of Recognised Prior Learning.

Since then the union, represented by its president (Derek Best) and its lawyer (Peter Cranney) have been in mediation talks with the Fire Service over the payments for firefighters who have achieved the IFE qualification.  In these talks, the Fire Service have adamantly continued to refuse to recognise prior learning, insisting that only firefighters who qualified by examination will receive the IFE payments.  In a job like firefighting, it seems perverse indeed to make this sort of distinction.  It’s not as if prior learning is some soft option compared to sitting an exam!

The employer is trying to make out that since there are already payments to firefighters with the SO (Station Officer) qualification and that to receive IFE payments as well would, in effect, be a kind of ‘double-dipping’.  Fire Service qualifications, they argued, cannot be cross-credited to receive additional payments.

But this is simply not the case.  To obtain the IFE qualification requires more than achieving the SO qualification.  Prior learning as a basis for the IFE requires a range of experience and competency beyond just the SO qualification.

Meanwhile, firefighters are also keeping an eye on new legislation introduced to parliament that will change the whole industry.  The mainly urban-focused New Zealand Fire Service, the National Rural Fire Authority and over 4o rural fire services are being merged to create a new national fire and emergency service, Fire and Emergency New Zealand as of July 1, 2017.  According to Internal Affairs minister Peter Dunne, “We’re not grafting one bit on to another – we’re building a completely new organisation.”  The bill’s first reading passed in parliament on July 6 and public submissions are now being taken.

While Dunne states this is not a cost-cutting exercise and no jobs will be lost, the NZPFU, while welcoming the modernisation and combining of services, is concerned about the lack of specific details so far provided to them.  Derek Best, for instance, has noted that most of the information so far has been about the rural service and volunteers.  As he points out, NZPFU members are “the ones who do the vast majority of the work, and we don’t want to be overlooked in the process.”

The union also states, “It is fair to say that many of the issues receive, at this stage, a ‘trust us’ response as so much, less than 12 months before FENZ is intended to take over, is unknown. The Union very much hopes that this situation will not continue to much longer but we have our doubts.”

The key points being made in the union’s submission to the Select Committee are:

  1. The Union is pleased to see the overarching thrust of the Bill – merging of Urban and Rural; updating the mandate and addressing, at least in part, some of the anomalies with the levy. However the Union has real concerns regarding the following.
  2. Where are the guarantees regarding continued employment and continuation of the Collective Agreement and other Conditions of Employment?
  3. The Bill is very vague on Operational Command and Control – there is nothing that details who or even if there will be an Operational Head of the Service. All power is given to the (civilian) Board and they can exercise it themselves or delegate to anyone.
  4. Gratuities are only continued for existing employees
  5. P.C.A is gone to be replaced by ‘Health Standards’. The provisions for challenging a Medical Disengagement are significantly weakened.
  6. A new role of ‘Inspector’ is established and is given very substantial powers but the Bill is very vague on who, what and how they will function.

Meanwhile, workers who own houses will feel the affects of the new legislation in 2018, as household insurance levies will be increased, rather than the new service being funded out of general taxation.

For a list of our firefighter coverage see, here.  We’d draw particular attention to the interview with British firefighter union organiser Paul Embery about firefighter issues over there – read the interview here

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