by Susanne Kemp
We’ve reported several times on the legislation to create a new Fire and Emergency service (see here and here). From the start, the firefighters’ union has raised a number of substantial problems with the legislation. The union also made a detailed submission on the bill.
However, when the legislation was reported back from the select committee shortly before Xmas, it was evident that not a single part of the union’s submissions were being reflected in the Bill.
As I wrote earlier, the main union points were:
- 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.
- Where are the guarantees regarding continued employment and continuation of the Collective Agreement and other Conditions of Employment?
- 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.
- Gratuities are only continued for existing employees
- P.C.A is gone to be replaced by ‘Health Standards’. The provisions for challenging a Medical Disengagement are significantly weakened.
- 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.
The first point the union is making about the legislation – and thus the proposed new organisation – is that the new organisation’s name does not include the word ‘service’. Although this might seem a very minor point, the union notes it is significant because, firstly, “it is a slap in the face to all the many thousands of dedicated men and women who over many years have provided and still provide a wonderful service to their communities – whether Career or Volunteer’ and, secondly, “(t)he only rational explanation is that the use of the concept of Service was resisted by the bureaucrats who cannot understand the concept of Service to their communities.”
In other words, the ethos of the new organisation will be more like that of a business – well, as far as how it will be run and operated from the top anyway.
Additionally, the legislation has little on the whole operations side, including operational command, will function. Indeed, bizarrely, operations seem to be relegated to the background. Not surprisingly, then, the new service will not be headed by someone with an operational background in fire and/or emergency services, but by a civilian CEO!
The bill also seeks to undermine, reduce or outright eliminate important work rights and conditions of firefighters. The union highlights these:
- Gratuities – although the Bill allows FENZ to pay a gratuity to new employees, the Bill does not require this (as the Fire Service Act does).
- Medical Boarding – the Bill requires any challenge to a FENZ decision to Medical Board firefighters to be done through the Personal Grievance Provision.
- The Bill also allows the employer to place firefighters on leave without pay when they challenge a decision to Medically Board – at present, however, firefighters remain on pay while the appeal procedure proceeds and the Employer meets the cost of an appeal.
- The Bill allows FENZ to put employees on LWOP for many months while the Personal Grievance process proceeds and it requires the firefighter to pay the cost – as this is essentially a medical decision, specialist medical advice will cost thousands.
There is a strange elevation of rural fire and emergency services too, and the creation of what looks like little empires for rural commanders. The union further notes, “The Commission, in their wisdom, have said they will retain Urban and Rural boundaries for Operational matters but have not given any guidance as to who would be operationally responsible for an incident such as Icepack – Tamahere; or even vegetation fires of which over 95% are exclusively dealt with by Urban Fire Services . . .”
The Commission overseeing the creation of the new organisation also seems to have been given free rein to do what they like. Given that they are simply “out of their depth and totally inept – this is a scary prospect for all of us,” says the union.
This legislation is an attack on the firefighters and their union and also an attack on working class communities which need the best possible fire service. It’s important that other unions, and workers more widely, discuss what is happening with the creation of the new Fire and Emergency organisation. It should be on the agenda at union gatherings across the country and workers generally should be prepared to support the firefighters – just like they have supported other workers in struggle.