Without any discussion or consultation with the Union and the individuals concerned, FENZ has unilaterally decided to advertise VSO roles that FENZ characterises incumbent’s as secondees.  There has been no discussion with the NZPFU as to the reason or purpose for the change, or the appointment process.

Affected members are advised we have sought legal advice on the issue and will take whatever steps necessary.

The NZPFU has notified FENZ of a dispute and put FENZ on notice that any attempt to continue with this process without first offering seconded VSOs the first right of refusal will be unlawful and grounds for personal grievances.  We have urged immediate action to cease this process, engage with the NZPFU on the reasons behind this change and what it intended to be achieved to ensure a lawful and reasonable way forward.

We advise Members who are currently in VSO positions which are being advertised to write to your manager and state “the NZPFU has advised that FENZ has to consult with the Union on the proposal to move all VSO positions to permanent appointments” , and that you “have a right of first refusal which is required by the rules of fair and reasonable treatment.”

We have also been informed that some managers have raised with current incumbent’s their age or other personal attributes when discussing the VSO appointment process.  It is unlawful and discriminatory to discuss any such personal attribute in the context of discussion of appointment processes.  Please detail that discussion in your email to your manager, and include any evidence of that discussion if you have it, notifying the manager you have a claim of discrimination.

Many of the secondees have been in the VSO roles for more than 2 years, some for more than 7 years,  and therefore have the right to be consulted about the decision to change all VSO secondments into permanent positions, and the right of  first refusal of any permanent position.  Therefore, it would be unlawful to advertise these roles and commence an appointment process without first discussing with the incumbent whether they want to be permanently appointed into the position they have had on a seconded basis for some years.

Some positions have always been filled by secondment, some have had rolling secondment agreements for years, some were seconded to cover for the substantive employee who was on leave or had taken a secondment themselves and they never returned to the VSO role.  We also understand that despite the secondment agreements protecting the secondees substantial position for some their substantive position has not been preserved.

The ability for secondments into the VSO role has significant benefits for the individuals and FENZ.  Where the secondee is from a career firefighting role they bring valid experience to the role.   It also benefits FENZ as they are wanting to continue to serve the community through the support of volunteer brigades.  Some take the secondments as a necessary break from operational firefighting (due to injury, physical and mental health reasons) and their firefighting background is invaluable.  It also means that FENZ continues to benefit from the investment in their training and their ongoing commitment to the organisation.

During the stand-up of Tranche 2 B which established CRR and RR positions the then National Commander Kerry Gregory undertook to ensure there was a review of the role and workloads of VSOs that were unilaterally and unreasonably increased beyond safe levels with the extension to rural brigades that had previously been supported by the disestablished DPRFO Positions.  At the time that Tranche 2 and 2B was mooted and implemented he personally acknowledged that the impact on VSOs had not been determined or managed in the restructure and that it would occur post the stand-up of the new structure.  Not only has it not happened but volunteers have been asked what support they need in a review where the VSOs and their unions were expressly and deliberately excluded.  We have yet to see any outcome of that process either which will have had limited value due to the express exclusion of VSOs.

The issue of unsafe workloads has been raised with FENZ repeatedly over the past four years in various forums including bargaining. FENZ has an arbitrary yard-stick of 10 brigades per VSO which does not in any way reflect the actual workload as not all brigades are equal as the brigades require different types and levels of support, can be geographically time-consuming for support and depending on the Brigade’s response rate, level of volunteers and availability and experience of the Brigade can require intensive support.  The number of VSOs required needs urgent attention and we know that Districts have been seeking additional FTEs and been denied despite detailed business cases for the need. This is also a health and safety issue.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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