Fire stations reform ‘proposed by union’

Fire stations reform ‘proposed by union’

22 September 2008

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Australia — Controversial overtime changes that will result in some NSW fire stations being taken “off line” overnight were originally called for by the firefighters’ union, the fire brigades say.

NSW Fire Brigades Commissioner (NSWFB) Greg Mullins on Monday said the NSW Fire Brigades Employees Union (FEBU) was now publicly opposed to cost-saving reforms it had pushed for two years ago.

“It’s a bit disingenuous, to say the least,” Mr Mullins told ABC Radio on Monday.

“The commission has picked up a proposal that the union itself actually came up with in 2006, to reduce overtime costs at a small number of fire stations.

“All of a sudden they are saying that their own proposal is an outrage and will impact on public safety, which I can assure the public it will not.”

Mr Mullins said the industrial relations commission awarded firefighters a 12.6 per cent pay rise, over three years, on Friday following a protracted pay dispute.

At the same time, the commission also approved the introduction of overtime reforms affecting about 30 of the state’s 340 fire stations, in a move that could save $1.5 million a year.

Mr Mullins said the affected stations were manned by retained – but not full-time – firefighters and, in many cases, they were located not far away from major fire stations.

The stations will be taken “off line” in cases where a retained firefighter called in sick, and they will no longer be replaced by a worker on overtime.

“Often when there is a fire, the full-time fire engine goes past the part-time fire station before the crew is even on the truck,” Mr Mullins said.

He said the change would only be in place in times of low fire-risk, and no stations would be taken off line during times of bushfire or a total fire ban.

But FEBU said on Monday that taking stations off line would increase the risk posed by the imminent summer bushfire season, and also had implications for the insurance industry.

“The (state) government has not thought through the implications of taking stations off line,” FEBU state secretary Simon Flynn said in a statement.

The move was a blow to the state’s “guarantee (of) 24-hour fire protection” and “the government is playing Russian roulette with community safety, and that is not acceptable”, Mr Flynn said.

“We will be campaigning against this in the lead-up to the next election,” he said.

Mr Flynn said the move would affect more than 30 stations including those at Mortdale, Ingleburn, Rhodes, Merrylands and Riverstone in Sydney.

Affected stations also include those in communities like Leura in the Blue Mountains, which borders bushland and faces a bushfire threat every year.

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