First blog for the year! It’s been a big and busy year in the Union (hence the rather long blog!) I have been trying to paint a picture over the last 12, now 13 blogs about the types of hours and hard work many of our elected reps and SME’s are doing for all of us. And yes, it does take time, but that is what is needed at this critical time when we are influencing the future of firefighting and all that goes with that.
We have had a major change at Council level, new President, new Vice President and new National Secretary! I would like to acknowledge the work of the Council, often working behind the scenes, early mornings and late nights with emails and phone calls flying around demanding our attention. In many ways the role of the Council and indeed any Union official is often reactive - someone needs advice, help, advocacy or support then we are available, this is important work and the NZPFU will always be able to provide this. In addition to this advocacy role, however, it is my view that we also need to be more proactive, strategically positioning ourselves for the future.
We are growing this new capability all the time, at this year’s National conference in Invercargill for example, we undertook a development session with an external consultant. Delegates worked together to look at what we are doing well now, what would we like to be doing in the future and how bridge that gap. The analysis of that work is yet to be completed, but it is my hope that we will be in a position to evaluate the work of the National Secretary, the National Council and Committee and SME’s and our two support staff, look at opportunities that could be created so that our Branch and Local officials are getting enough timely and effective support. It is about finding more efficient ways of resourcing and working, operating smarter, and ensuring the members are getting appropriate support and guidance, and of course value for money for those hard earnt Union fees.
Our buildings, Auckland and Petone desperately need renewing and some TLC. They are after all a major asset and we need to look after them. Some work has been undertaken already however a we will be engaging in professional services to further assess the quantum of work required to maintain the assets in a suitable state. We may also take this opportunity to review the locations of both offices.
This year we had a record number of first time attendees at our National Conference in Invercargill. It is so encouraging to see these new faces, with new ideas, new questions, new input and new enthusiasm for our Union. This great event was hosted by the amazing local committee and crews down there with one social highlight being the absolute funniest welcome speech by Mayor Tim Shadbolt. He had everyone in stitches and had the Australians in attendance literally thinking he was a comedian who’s act was him pretending to be a Mayor!
The Wellington Local ran a seminar in December about Women in FENZ and the NZPFU. It was attended by approximately 80% of all serving women in Areas 15 and 16 and a special guest SSO Rachel Cowling from Victoria MFB and UFUVic who is a 5th generation firefighter, presented on life as a firefighter and a woman. The operational crews stayed on and feedback from everyone I have spoken to has been extremely positive. The take aways? (in short) Yes they are women, they shouldn’t have to act like men, yes they are different, no they do not want to be treated differently. Seems pretty simple to me! Keep in mind that treating people fairly and respectfully is at the core of Trade Unionism and that means maintaining respectful behaviour for ALL members of our crews, watches, stations, our managers, our support staff, the volunteers and most of all ourselves.
On that note, personal resilience is something that keeps popping up around our fire stations, appliances and mess room tables. Part of my “new years resolution” if you like, is to work on my own resilience, creating more down time, more family time and less device time. With always being contactable and my phone being on 24/7, answering e mails at all hours means I am not having any down time, or family time. For me work has come first for a long time and it comes at a cost. So, I will be trying to consciously leave the phone and laptop alone in the evenings when I am at home, setting defined times during the days I am at home for Union work and personal development and the rest spent doing home “stuff”. I might even get back into the kitchen more which is never a bad thing for me!
This is something I want the Council, Committee and elected reps to do as well. In addition, I want reps to take leave from Union work when we are on FENZ extended leave, it’s good enough to be away from work then that should mean Union work too. I know there are our people out there pulling huge hours at great personal cost to their relationships and their own time. We need to be extremely mindful that we do not abuse that goodwill, shown by both members and their families. So I encourage all our reps, to set some boundaries for conducting Union business, lets work on our terms when dealing with management, let’s look after ourselves this year. Resilience will bring productivity and sustainability which ultimately means a greater and more meaningful influence.
The Council met with FENZ management in the week before Christmas to discuss recognition of the medical response work that Professional Career firefighters are doing as part of the MOU with St Johns (the old one). The Union had previously presented a really logical option to FENZ that accounted for different call rates, attracting different allowance rates and also tying in differing psychological supervision rates depending on call rates for differing Areas, being compulsorily offered by FENZ. What we got presented on the 19th was nothing like this. We have asked FENZ to go away and give us more data and information around how they arrived at their “solution” for recognition of medical response work we are all carrying out. We will definitely keep you all posted!
Further to the updated (new) St John’s MOU, that we stopped from being implemented due to the extra work that St John’s wanted us to undertake on their behalf due to their staffing levels, a new group has started up, titled the National Emergency Medical Response Focus Group. This is a group of FENZ NZPFU, UFBA and St John’s, Wgtn Free ambulance and an ambulance Union rep. The NZPFU is represented on this group by SME Justin Murtha from Christchurch and he has a very good handle on medical response and just what we should and shouldn’t be doing. He has a clear understanding of the Union’s positions and he is working closely with the wider group to find solutions to the proposed MOU that we refused to engage with.
A few things out of the last monthly meeting with FENZ at NHQ, lines 2 and 3 training, there will be a new set of equipment available soon that will mean that major training exercises and training will not require the removal of operational equipment from appliances as was done in the past. There is still no movement or progress on any sort of mass casualty and/or ASHER (active shooter hostile event response) policy despite us driving this for months. We will continue to press operations for such a policy and training. We have got acceptance and clarification from FENZ management and in particular the employment relations manager, that FRMO’s under clause 4.3.6 which is their allowance for being on call now can claim the 4.3.4 clause OT call out claim if they are spending a lot of time on phone calls, giving detailed advice, and not just answering calls and arranging a later arrival time. Claims for this should be claimed in the usual way and if questioned by your manager, ask that they be forwarded on to Chris Wells and myself. We obviously ask members to be mindful when making these claims and that the clause is read in it’s entirety.
There have been two major fires in this last year, namely Pigeon Valley and New Zealand International Convention centre. It is disappointing that the sponsor of the NZICC fire is a non-operational Deputy Chief Executive. Apparently this fire is not significant enough for even the National Commander, our highest ranking operational officer to sponsor! Sadly, this is indicative of the current trend within FENZ and how civilians view and ultimately disregard the work of Professional Career Firefighters, and how little they value the review process. The NZPFU council will be watching this review with much interest ensuring that any recommended outcomes and future processes are fit for purpose given the overall lack of operational input and/or guidance in the review.
So in closing, I would like to thank you all for a good year, one in which we began the process of rebuilding vital relationships amongst ourselves, started operating in different ways, using more and more SME’s and different ways of communicating, electronic election trial and new tee shirts and much much more. Without us as members, there is no Union, we are the Union! We are strong and we are proud, I am and I know I speak for Wattie and Joe, extremely proud and excited to lead our Union into a new phase for 2020 and beyond.
Let’s be kind to each other, give ourselves a break and relish the times with our families, both home and work.
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union