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".