Fire fighters turn up the heat
by Tom Pearson On Wednesday February 10, hundreds of South Australian fire fighters marched down Adelaide's Victoria Square and along King William Street to Parliament House. Once there they handed over a petition containing almost 20,000 signatures to Labor opposition leader Mike Rann to present to Parliament. The action was part of a United Fire Fighters' Union campaign to defend the ongoing quality of the service and for a long-overdue wage rise for its members. The petition, which was gathered in just three weeks, underscored the strong public support for the fire fighters' campaign. "I have no doubt that if we allowed ourselves more time, we'd have an even larger stack of names to put before the Government", said the union's State Secretary, Mick Doyle. "However, we don't have the time as enterprise negotiations have reached a crisis point and there's a real urgency to achieve a fair deal." In addition, the union has good reason to believe that the Olsen Liberal Government has plans to privatise the service's communications system, with the first step being the relocation of the Communication Centre from Adelaide to Mt Barker, in the Adelaide Hills. A government memo obtained by the union reveals that the move would result in staff cuts and the site of the current Communication Centre being sold. This would allow the new communications operators to set up at the new site and hire their own staff. As a result, South Australia stands to lose experienced, expert fire fighting staff, skilled in communications and the tactics required in an emergency. As for their pay claim — an 18 per cent rise in three instalments over three years — the union confirmed their position; that they will not accept the Government's offer of six per cent over three years. "Fire fighters will not endanger public lives by going on strike, and the Government knows it", said Mick Doyle. "Which is why it's holding out on a fair deal." He said that fire fighters have been seeking their pay rise for eight months but the Government keeps on with its delaying tactics. "It's time the Government realised that the public want the very very best fire fighting service. Delaying negotiations and holding back on a fair deal ultimately hurts the public. "Fire fighters put their lives on the line to save others — they deserve a fair deal and the public supports them in that."