NZPFU conference endorses review into Union structures and representation

This week the NZPFU National, Branch and Local representatives gathered in Wellington for the annual national conference. Over the past few conferences the NZPFU has invited observers from other sectors of our membership as this is the opportunity to listen and learn from each other. This year we were joined by members from the three communication centres, training (regional and NTC) and Black watch/FRMOs and all groups had an opportunity to report on key issues affecting their sector.

Union structures and representation are fundamental to the sound administration of the union and its relevance to its membership. 

The NZPFU is an amalgamation of geographical firefighter branches into a national union.  Our founding members debated the representation structures that would best represent the membership by ensuring all members were well served by the national body regardless of location or size of their Local. No doubt that would have been a lengthy and robust debate as they were representing Locals that varied in size, union membership and financial status.   The result was the current structure which includes a National Committee comprising of the three National offices of President, Vice President and Secretary, and equal representation of the three Branches.

The structure of the Union and its representation of the membership was again robustly debated at the 32nd annual conference this week.  This issue has arisen periodically over the decades but without significant changes being made.   This year the Auckland Local proposed rule changes that included additional Branch representation on the National Committee determined by the proportion of the overall membership of the union.  The topic created a robust debate with many speaking for or against,  or “for and against” the Remit. The Auckland Local agreed to amend the Remit removing the rule change but ensuring a review will be undertaken so that all options, implications and consequences of a changed union structure can be fully understood and considered by the Conference.  The motion that was passed is as follows:

The NZPFU will contract appropriate consultants to undertake a review of the union structures and representation rules to provide a report including recommendations by 30 July 2021.  A sub-committee comprising of the National Secretary, a representative from the Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Dunedin, Hamilton, Kawarau and Nelson Locals, a communications centre representative,  and a training representative and a FRMO representative will develop the terms of reference for the review. That sub-committee will receive and consider the resulting consultant’s report and recommendations before bringing that report and recommendations to the National Committee and then the National Conference.

The Conference endorsed various Rule Changes including the formalisation of the inclusion of the Northern, Central and South Branch Vice Presidents on the National Committee.   The Branch Vice Presidents have been included in National Committee meetings and correspondence for a few years but did not have voting rights.  The rule change formalises that practice.

The Conference was held over three days and conference highlights included:

  • A visit from newly elected Minister of Internal Affairs Jan Tinetti.  Due to other commitments the Minister had limited time but briefly addressed the conference referencing her strong union foundation during her career as a teacher.  We look forward to meeting with the Minister on a regular basis.
  • United Firefighters of Winnipeg President Alex Forrest and UFFW Board Member Robert Campbell taking a break from their collective agreement negotiations to beam in via video conference.  Alex updated the Conference on the developments of research into firefighters’ occupational cancer and the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) work including the recent classification of shift-work as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) and the pending work to update the monograph into firefighting.
  • The complete FENZ Executive Leadership Team fronting as a panel for a question and answer session with the Conference delegates.  The dire situation with large numbers of the Man trucks offline, lack of progress on the Auckland Taskforce, the relevance of rank and required competencies, and FENZ’s questionable financial priorities were hot topics.  More than 1300 people watched the session live as we streamed via Facebook.
  • FireSuper Chair of the Trustee Directors Denis Fitzmaurice report of the Scheme remaining in a strong position despite a volatile year for the international markets affected by the global pandemic and the NZ and USA elections.  The Conservative, Balanced and Growth options saw a continued recovery in performance over the 3rd quarter.  Denis, Steve Warner (Christchurch) and Boyd Raines (Auckland) are the union-appointed Trustee Directors.  Boyd will stand down in 2021 having given 7-years’ service during a challenging decade. Whanganui Local Secretary Rueben Otto has had initial training and will attend the meetings as an observer to transition into Boyd’s vacated position.  We thank Boyd for his service representing the membership on the Scheme since 2013. The Conference appointed Warwick Le Quesne (Hawkes Bay Vice President) to then take up observer status to ensure smooth succession planning for the future.
  • Wellington-based Honorary Life Members Jeff Keeys, Owen Woodman, Frank Wharton and Derek Best joined the conference for a function at the Wellington Brigade Squad Room surrounded by the history of the fire service in the Museum.   National President Ian Wright and Hamilton Local Secretary Blair Kiely took the opportunity to present Honorary Life Membership to Peter (Slab) Hallett.  Peter was nominated by the Conference in 2019 in recognition of his decades of service to the Hamilton Local, and the national union.  Despite no longer holding a union position Peter diligently represents the interests of FRMOs who are facing a challenging time with the FENZ restructure.
  • Conference unanimously endorsing two new Honorary Life Members.  Whangarei Local nominee Brad Cunningham was recognised for his 46 years of service, and Rotorua Local nominee William Clark was recognised for his decades of leadership in the Local President and Secretary roles.  Honorary Life Member presentations will be organised with the relevant Locals next year.

We thank all those that attended the Conference, and for their self-less dedication to supporting their members throughout the year.   Our National Committee and Local representatives work tirelessly in the interests of our membership.  They are the strongest gate-keepers for health and safety practices and protecting our member’s employment rights.  In doing so they sacrifice family and personal time which is already a precious commodity given their service to the community through their FENZ roles.  To find three more days to participate at the annual conference is greatly appreciated.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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