This week FENZ has required black watch trainers to interrupt their duties to staff a truck and respond. There have also been recent instances where FENZ has cross-crewed professional career firefighters and volunteer firefighters on a tanker or volunteer appliance (where there has not been any prior arrangement or agreement to do so).
These deployments are in breach of safe systems of work and terms and conditions of employment.
These deployments were not in circumstances of surge capacity. Other staffing options available to FENZ had not been actioned.
If there are staffing levels or volunteer availability affecting response then FENZ needs to address those issues, not breach agreements or safe systems of work on an ad hoc basis. If there is an immediate need we have stated we will work with FENZ to address those immediate issues provided the safe systems of work and employment rights are maintained. There are options in the employment agreement including the availability clause. It is important to note that management did not engage with the union about these instances – at the time or afterwards.
We understand the pressure our members have been put under at times to deploy in breach of safe systems of work but your safety and employment (including contractual) rights must be maintained. We also understand that those that deployed in these circumstances would have done so with the best intentions. But allowing these breaches does not resolve the need to address staffing levels or volunteer availability. It can have long term consequences that are not in your interests. FENZ is abusing your dedication to serving the community by placing the responsibility on the individual firefighter to respond contrary to your safety, your employment rights and your interests. FENZ should be foreseeing any staffing or volunteer response issues, not pressuring individual firefighters to deploy in this manner. FENZ is obligated under the Act to have the appropriate planning and resourcing to protect the community.
We have repeatedly and proactively at Local and National level approached FENZ to put in place safe resourcing to maintain community protection. The stagnation of professional career firefighter numbers at 1990 levels is not sustainable and must be addressed. Volunteer brigades are an integral part of the protection of the New Zealand community and are commended for their dedication and service in addition to their own working and family commitments. But FENZ cannot expect volunteer brigades to be available to respond appliances 24/7 or respond to hundreds of calls a year. For many brigades that level of response is not sustainable.
The NZPFU National Council met with FENZ yesterday to again discuss planning with union input at local and national levels. It was a productive meeting but the planning for 2021 current staffing and response resourcing should have been done 10 years ago. Any planning done now will take years to implement.
Please contact your Local or the National union representative if you are a black watch employee and requested to respond, or are being requested to cross-crew or respond in any manner that is not consistent with usual deployment and safe systems of work.
We must protect your safety and preserve your interests.