The proverb you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear comes to mind when reading FENZ’s attempts to dress up its current offer to settle the bargaining as a position of value.

The FENZ propaganda machine is underway with both the CEO Kerry Gregory and Acting National Commander Brendan Nally sending emails far and wide trying to win support for its meagre offer to NZPFU members.

This week FENZ’s lead negotiator and Chief Advisor Key Relationships Chris Wells joined the propaganda parade ironically claiming the NZPFU was misleading the membership in reporting the accurate fact that over 65% of our membership would only be guaranteed a 1.5% to 2% pay increase for effectively a two-year deal under FENZ’s current offer.  

FENZ prefers to remove our Part 4 members (Trainers, VSOs and CRR and RR Advisors/Senior Advisors) from the equation to massage their reporting of the summary of offer.   NZPFU members already report feeling deeply disrespected and devalued.  I am sure FENZ’s attempt to gloss over the abysmal pay offer to Part 4 members will only serve to further unite the membership.

NZPFU members won’t be fooled.   FENZ’s behaviour will fuel frustration and anger just as members head into the national round of meetings to vote on ballots for industrial action, and vote on FENZ’s summary of offer.

Below is the full email received from Chris Wells with the NZPFU response.   We have produced the full email where Chris set out the NZPFU statements he objected to and provides FENZ’s comments.  The NZPFU then responds in blue italicised.

Kia Ora Wattie

As confirmed earlier, your notice of member meetings has been actioned and arrangements will be made locally to accommodate the meetings in the usual way.

Although we are of course aware of the views you have openly expressed to members on your website concerning the offer, I would note at the same time that we have not had a direct response to my email dated 8 April providing the consolidated offer summary.

In putting that offer to you we proposed mediation as the next logical step given the apparent impasse.

Could you please indicate whether PFU have considered that option and or whether that will be put to members for consideration, in the event the offer is declined.

NZPFU RESPONSE:

Dear Chris

In your 8 April 2022 email where you attached the “Summary of FENZ bargaining offer” you requested  “To ensure your members have full visibility of what is being offered, we have compiled the attached consolidated summary of the offer. We would like you to provide members with this as a draft terms of settlement.”   We have provided a copy to our members and have given FENZ the required notice of meetings where this summary of offer where members’ will have the opportunity to put their view.  As you know the NZPFU National Committee is recommending members’ reject the summary of offer.  We will respond to that summary after those membership meetings.  

In the same email you wrote “It would appear that we are now at an impasse in the bargaining as whilst we are able to restructure aspects of our offer, we are not in a position to increase the overall cost of the package.”  Chris, while you are proposing mediation you were limiting any discussion in mediation to the current overall cost of the FENZ package.   Bargaining has taken place over 11 months.  On 22 March 2022 we met again to try and get some movement on a series of key matters.  FENZ then took three weeks to come back with essentially the same position it declared in January 2022.   Apart from differences arising from FENZ’s inaccurate calculations there has been no substantial movement from FENZ since then.   It is not a genuine offer of mediation when FENZ has already declared it will not change the current parameters of the offer.  

I would also like to bring to your attention some comments in your most recent blog to members about the offer ahead of your meetings, that we consider to be inaccurate or misleading as follows:

NZPFU statement

  • FENZ’s has refused to include staffing ratios, safe systems of work and most of NZPFU’s safety, health and wellbeing claims including recognising occupational cancer being included in the agreement.
  • FENZ has refused the NZPFU claims for recognition of medical response and the impact on mental health.
  • On day 1 of the bargaining FENZ confirmed they would not be seeking to clawback any terms or conditions yet FENZ’s offer includes a serious attack on our union consultation and dispute rights.
FENZ Comment

  • In relation to all three points – rather than simply refusing the claims, FENZ has tabled alternative proposals intended to address the underlying issues discussed during bargaining, that the PFU has so far chosen not to respond to. 

NZPFU RESPONSE:

The NZPFU stands by our statements.  The statements are factually correct. 

  • FENZ has refused to include the NZPFU staffing ratios, safe systems of work and most of the NZPFU’s safety, health and wellbeing claims including recognising occupational cancer, in the collective agreement.
  • The FENZ Summary of Offer does not refer to staffing ratios or safe systems of work at all. Staffing levels have not changed since the 1980s and FENZ admits that the current staffing ratios are not sufficient to cover leave, training and secondments. As a result, FENZ is breaching its own minimum staffing standards and the level of response to the public is being affected with short crewing, trucks offline and at times career stations closing due to lack of staff.
  • FENZ has even refused to agree to claims that do not cost FENZ anything but merely record the current staffing system for each station and appliance.
  • The FENZ Summary of Offer only includes “discussion” of the Union’s proposals for additional training or support that could be put in place in recognition of the impact of medical response on mental health.  In doing so FENZ has refused the NZPFU claims for a medical response allowance and for appropriate wellness programmes.
  • The FENZ Summary of Offer does not even mention occupational cancer.   FENZ is refusing to recognise firefighters’ the occupational cancer in the CEA.   These occupational cancers that are widely accepted and underpinned by a wealth of credible international research. Some NZ firefighters are being denied cover for occupational cancer and as an ACC accredited employer FENZ could provide for these firefighters in their greatest time of need.  
  • FENZ’s has offered to reimburse firefighters up to $170 for necessary health monitoring medical costs but not on a guaranteed ongoing basis.  This temporary assistance is only likely to benefit the Christchurch firefighters as Christchurch has the only comprehensive health monitoring programme heavily subsidised by the provider and negotiated by firefighters for firefighters.  FENZ knows that most firefighters will not be able to access the full testing as GPs do not generally understand the increased risk of occupational illness and cancer for firefighters.
  • The NZPFU will respond to FENZ’s summary of offer after the membership meetings.
The characterisation of our response to your consultation claim as a claw back does not fairly reflect that it is in fact a response to your claim for significant advances in the consultation provision effectively seeking negotiation and rights of veto in place of consultation, where consultation currently applies.

NZPFU RESPONSE:

  • The NZPFU stands by our statement.  It is factually correct.
  • FENZ is attempting to rewrite history with this statement. At the first full day of bargaining on 29 June 2021. FENZ presented an overview of their claims before they had heard from the union at all on our position.  Amongst FENZ’s stated goals was a clear intention to water down the consultation provisions to reduce NZPFU effectiveness.  In fact, Chris our notes record you said “We want to step consultation out from disputes.”  We had not presented our claim on consultation and dispute clauses at that point.  The FENZ document provided included “We want to exclude the consultation clause from the dispute provision…”
  • FENZ’s attack on consultation and dispute are clawbacks to the current agreement.  FENZ’s proposals are designed to significantly limit the circumstances requiring consultation, and to eliminate the NZPFU’s ability to hold FENZ accountable when it fails to consult.  Almost every Dispute notified holds FENZ to task for failing to properly consult.  If FENZ properly consulted many of the disputes would not occur or would be resolved pragmatically.
NZPFU statement

  • Over 65% of NZPFU members would get 1.5 - 2.0% wage increases under FENZ’s offer.

FENZ Comment

It is misleading to suggest that less than 35% of your members would receive more than 2% under the current offer.  In fact, nearly half your membership at 45%, excluding black watch, would receive a greater than 2% base pay increase.

Black watch staff benefited from an additional 5% uplift to their pay rates during the term of the previous (2018-2021) CEA, which is now being included, in addition to annual market-based pay increases and pay progression. 

Even looking at those receiving 3%+ under the current offer, produces 41%, or 44% if you do not include black watch in the figures.

The statement is also misleading in suggesting that this is the full extent of the wage offer and omits to describe the full value of the package.

NZPFU RESPONSE:

  • The NZPFU stands by our statement.  It is factually correct.  FENZ is the one massaging the data by removing a section of our membership to suit its own narrative.  
  • In fact, FENZ have done nothing more than prove our calculations to be correct.   Black Watch roles (and their resulting pay offer) form part of the Agreement being negotiated. When they are factored in, it is true and accurate to assert that over 65% of NZPFU members who fall inside the coverage of this Agreement would receive between 1.5 – 2.0% if the FENZ offer was accepted.   It is another example of FENZ’s disrespect for our members in trying to carve specific work classifications out of the equation to suit its propaganda. 
  • The 2019 variation of 5% percent for Black Watch was to purely align NZPFU members with the salaries being paid to non-NZPFU members for the same job.  That adjustment included the removal of three allowances.
  • The VSOs, CRR and RR Advisors/Senior Advisors and Trainers only get 1.5% under the FENZ offer.   Under the restructure the CRR and RR Advisors/Senior Advisors were stripped of the benefit of their years of service correlating to the Step in their pay band they were arbitrarily assigned.   As a result of the restructure VSOs have been required to take over the support of Rural brigades in addition to their current workload with no pay increase.  Those rural brigades were previously supported by DPRFOs who were being paid at least more than $20,000 than the highest pay step for VSOs.
NZPFU statement

  • NZPFU members have not had a pay increase since 1 July 2020 yet FENZ’s wage offer is the only guaranteed wage increase over a two-year deal.
  • Under the current collective agreement FENZ’s market wage offer should have been offered back in May 2021 to apply from 1 July 2021.  FENZ waited until 8 April 2022 to make the formal offer and are trying to push through the bad deal by refusing to backdate unless NZPFU members ratify the agreement by 31 May 2022.  

FENZ Comment

In December 2021 FENZ proposed that the 1 July 2021 increases would be processed for PFU members at that time, when all other 2021 increases were being processed across the FENZ workforce.  The proposal was that this would settle the 2021 remuneration round and that negotiations would continue for all other claims including 2022 remuneration increases. 

The PFU considered and then declined this proposal.  This is why a 2021 market-based pay adjustment has not yet been provided to PFU members.  Pay progression-based increases have continued to be applied during this period as normal.

NZPFU RESPONSE:

  • The NZPFU stands by our statement.  It is factually correct.
  • The last pay increase applied from 1 July 2020 and were only received on 8 February 2021 (backdated).  Station Officers and Senior Station Officers received 1%, trainee firefighters/firefighters Stage 1, and trainee Communicators/Communicators Grade one received 3% with everyone else receiving a 1.8% pay increase.
  • Under the current CEA FENZ was required to provide its market data for the annual review of remuneration in May each year for those rates to apply from 1 July.  FENZ did not produce that data until December 2021 and only made the offer on 8 April 2022.  
  • FENZ has made the wage offer on the proviso the agreement expires 12 months after ratification.  That would be at least a 2-year agreement.
  • FENZ has also threatened to refuse to pay backpay (even though your offer is for the 1 July 2021-30 June 2022 year) if your summary of offer was not ratified by 31 May 2022.
NZPFU statement

  • Recruit firefighters are currently paid less than the NZ Living Wage so FENZ has offered them the highest increase for the 12 weeks they are on the course.  That would usually apply to about 100 recruits a year (for 12 weeks) but FENZ has cancelled the April 2022 recruit course.
FENZ Comment

This statement is inaccurate based on a comparison of the 40 hour week of Trainee Firefighters to the 40 hour week NZ Living Wage, under the current offer.

The current (July 2020) annual salary for trainee firefighters is $46,023 (under a “Black Watch position, clause 2.4.2 CEA).  This equates to $22.13 which was above the September 2020 living wage.   This has only now fallen below the updated September 2021 living wage because the July 2021 pay rise offered to the PFU has not been accepted.  Based on the proposed offer, the trainee firefighter weekly wage/rate would be higher than the current living wage.

NZPFU RESPONSE:

  • The NZPFU stand by our statement.  It is factually correct. 
  • The union has said that Trainee Firefighters are currently paid below the living wage, which is absolutely correct. For that matter, it is also correct that Firefighters yet to complete Stage 1 TAPS are also paid under the current living wage.
  • FENZ should be ashamed that there are firefighters relying on foodbanks for support as they cannot feed their families on their basic wage.
FENZ concluding Remarks

Whilst we appreciate that the current offer falls short of your members expectations, I think we all agree that it would be useful to at least be on common ground as to the respective positions.  We are concerned that your communication to members fails to provide a fair and balanced account of the offer, but is also factually inaccurate in various respects.  We request that you issue a further communication to members, ahead of your members meetings, addressing the concerns we have raised. Please advise us by 5pm on 4 May whether you will be doing so.

In the event that you choose not to do so, we will further consider whether it is necessary to issue a communication of our own. 

NZPFU RESPONSE:

  • As outlined above the NZPFU information is factual – it is FENZ that is being misleading particularly in its propaganda about the level of wage increases to the full membership.
  • Further the FENZ website continues to make outrageously misleading claims and propaganda.  FENZ should be embarrassed with the rates it pays NZPFU members, particularly when compared to other roles in FENZ that do not have anywhere near the level of training, qualifications, experience, risk and responsibility.  Instead of propaganda FENZ should be proactive in addressing the appalling wage rates.  
  • FENZ’s keeps trotting out average earnings for firefighters without explaining the excessive hours that have to be worked to earn that income.  Firefighters have to do that overtime to maintain minimum staffing and the level of response to the community.  Stations close and trucks go offline, or deploy with dangerous staffing levels if they don’t.  They do those hours to protect the public and to maintain safe systems of work.  FENZ controls the hours by controlling the availability of overtime and limiting the hours worked through the fatigue policy.  
  • It is time for FENZ to be honest.
  • It is time for FENZ to respect the professionalism of firefighting and stop paying them wages that barely scrape over the minimum wage for the lower ranks. The reality is that the base salary for the lower ranks of firefighters are the lowest pay bands in FENZ The salary band for administration-type assistants is more than $30,000 higher than the base wages for a  Senior Firefighter.  The devaluation of firefighting is mind-blowing particularly when the training, qualifications, duties, risk to health and wellbeing and responsibility for others health and safety is considered.  Also, that administrator-type role gets FENZ funded Life and Income Protection Insurance while the organisation unashamedly refuses to provide an allowance for our members to assist with premiums for life, medical and income protection insurance.
  • The claim on FENZ’s website that a Trainee firefighter who have completed the 12-week training course to earn significantly more than their base salary by undertaking additional or specialist duties is ridiculous.   Trainee firefighters do not have specialist qualifications and the Firefighter hourly rate is $22.58.
  • FENZ’s outrageous and misleading claims on its website that on average, firefighters’ total annual earnings are currently around $97,000 and officers’ total annual earnings are around $137,000.  A Firefighter would have to work in excess of 70 hours a week on average, and a Qualified Firefighter would have to work about 60 hours a week on average to earn $97,000 gross.  A Station Officer would have to work on average about 62 hours a week every week and an SSO more than 60 hours a week every week to earn $137,000 gross.
  • Working these hours increases their risk to health and safety – not just with fatigue.  With every hour of work the Firefighter and Officer increases their risk of exposure to carcinogens and trauma putting their quality and quantity of life on the line.  The SO (where it is not a SSO station) has huge responsibility in command and control of a firefighters and appliances at all types of incidents including complex events.  Their level of responsibility and decision-making under pressure is a specialist skill that few other roles in FENZ are required to have.  This is high stakes work where they literally have the lives of their colleagues and the public they are responding to in their hands.
  • To add insult to injury the non-operational personnel automatically get life and income protection insurance funded by  FENZ.  FENZ’s funds non-uniform permanent staff members and rural uniformed personnel Life and Income Protection insurance but refused the NZPFU claim to reimburse NZPFU members for life, medical or income protection insurance.  

Your statement that you would wait until 5pm on 4 May to determine whether to issue a communication of your own is disingenuous as both Kerry Gregory and Brendan Nally have already released communications.

We are providing the above to our members.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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