The Guardian December 8, 1999


Fire fighters dispute heats up

by Rohan Gowland

NSW fire fighters say that management and the Carr Government can be 
guaranteed there will be industrial action in the very near future as 
workers and their union are again being given the run around.

NSW fire fighters were once hailed as "heroes" for their brave efforts 
during the 1993-94 bushfires that devastated the State.

However, that's where the thanks ended. When fire fighters asked for equity 
in compensation pay-outs for fire fighters who are seriously injured or 
killed in the line of duty, they were met with the cold shoulder from the 
NSW Fire Brigades and the Carr Government.

Fire Brigade management and the Government turned with a blink of the eye 
from viewing firefighters as "heroes" to treating them as "the enemy"  as 
"pesty" workers with a claim against the Government.

The NSW Government has shown this same hostile approach with other sections 
of the public sector lately; teachers, nurses, National Parks and Wildlife 
officers, parking police and public transport workers all know the cold 
shoulder well.

Fire fighters are again locked in confrontation with the Fire Brigade and 
the Government who have failed to negotiate a new award since the last one 
expired in August.

Fire Brigade Employees' Union (FBEU) State Secretary Chris Read told The 
Guardian on Friday last week that NSW fire fighters are prepared to 
step up their industrial action after management again backed out of 
negotiations.

Fire fighters had threatened to walk off the job for at least three hours 
last Thursday if by that time they hadn't received a commitment from the 
NSW Fire Brigades and the Carr Government to sit down at the negotiating 
table.

The union had demanded that they immediately open negotiations and discuss 
the union's award application.

The stopwork was planned for 11am but at 9am that morning the Industrial 
Relations Commission faxed a letter to the union, and all the fire stations 
that were expected to take part in the stopwork. The letter agreed to the 
opening of negotiations between the parties.

Since the union's demands were met, it called off the stopwork action, but 
just half an hour after they called it off, the Commission sent another 
letter to the union, and not the fire stations this time, to "clarify" what 
it had said in the first letter.

The second letter said it would start negotiations only when all the 
bans were lifted  which includes the limited bans which are part of their 
campaign for equity in compensation pay-outs and which are not part of this 
current dispute for a new award.

Union meetings of fire fighters are to be held this week and further action 
is "guaranteed".

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