Today the independent Mediator’s Report into the NZPFU and FENZ collective bargaining agreement was released setting out strong principles for the pathway to settlement for the agreement.
Former Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan has confirmed many of the claims that the NZPFU has made including understaffing, FENZ failing to recruit sufficient staff, the need for urgent response to health and wellbeing needs of our members and that genuine consultation requires the early and detailed involvement of our membership in matters that affect their work including safety, health and wellbeing of FENZ’s “greatest asset, its people.”
The Report includes:
“it is important that the value in which FENZ holds its firefighters is reflected by the working conditions (including but not limited to, remuneration) in which the relationship operates. So to is the health, safety and wellbeing of firefighters an important reflection of that value that I am confident FENZ wishes to place on the efforts of those staff”.
The report and recommendations are not binding on the parties but the NZPFU see it as a keystone document for these negotiations and for the development of the relationship that Graeme Colgan recognised is in such a poor state. The report primarily focuses on firefighters and does not traverse all claims and those matters will also require negotiation.
If FENZ embrace the findings and principles in the report they will make an offer to settle the bargaining that respects and values our members.
Key findings include:
- Health, safety and wellness needs to be addressed promptly by providing medical and psychological programmes and treatment for staff potentially affected by inherent risks and exposures
- NZPFU members should be involved in early, genuine and detailed consultation leading to FENZ decision-making on matters affecting FENZ’s operations including the health, safety and wellbeing of its greatest asset – its people.
- FENZ’s attention was drawn to its obligations under legislation which impose obligations to promote safe systems of work, to prevent injuries and to consult in good faith.
- FENZ firefighters are significantly underpaid when compared to the nearest comparator groups in NZ (DOC staff who fight fires on DOC lands and airport firefighters).
- There is an equity issue within FENZ. NZPFU members are inadequately paid when compared to other staff in FENZ.
- The salaries of trainees after graduation are low, unattractive and unless changed are counterproductive to recruitment.
- Continued retention of inadequately paid staff cannot be taken for granted. Goodwill and commitment to service should not be taken for granted by FENZ.
- There has been inadequate recruitment of firefighters for some years.
- The shortage of staff has resulted in significant levels of overtime being worked by NZPFU members to maintain the cover needed on appliances and stations
- FENZ agrees that the ratio of firefighters has to increase. FENZ must make good on its solemn commitment to recruit more and good quality firefighters and communications staff
Mr Colgan did not recommend the necessary increase in staffing be included in the collective agreement but recorded that FENZ had agreed staffing ratios had to increase and had “made a public commitment and maximal (quality and quantity)… and gives FENZ the opportunity to “make good on its solemn commitment to recruit more and good quality firefighters and communications centre staff”.
Mr Colgan recommends “financial envelopes” for the three financial years to be covered by the collective agreement “to capture all expenditure that constitutes remuneration… payments to Union members in return for work performed in their proverbial back pockets”. The recommended financial envelopes are 3.5% (2021-2022) 7.5% (2022-2023) and 6.5% (2023-2024) are increases over the applicable remuneration and allowances made in the previous year to NZPFU members.
The report includes a number of matters that FENZ had previously refused or rejected:
- income protection and medical insurance
- financial recognition of medical response to be built in to the base rate
- a $1500 sign on bonus (an incentive to settle and represents the consequences of waiting too long for productive discussions to produce a new collective agreement)
- backdating (FENZ had offered a $2000 lump sum in lieu of backdating)
- establishing working parties in the collective agreement for issues such as staffing, appliances/equipment/uniform, health, safety and wellbeing
- final offer arbitration process for enforceability of some of the working parties
- the annual remuneration review process currently used by FENZ does not provide comparative data for the NZPFU membership
Mr Colgan also recommends the reimbursement of $250 p.a for blood screening programme for early detection of occupational cancer, and for mental health programmes and support to be developed in agreement with the Union.
The Report recognises that the Recommendations will require a significant increase in what FENZ was prepared to spend on the NZPFU bargaining and may require additional funds.
The Department of Internal Affairs appointed peer financial reviewers for the Graeme Colgan process and they will remain involved to determine the actual costs of the recommendations and any proposal for settlement.
The NZPFU has already met with Minister Jan Tinetti to discuss the report and highlighted the options for funding, some of which would require Government support. The extent of that support will be dependent on any settlement reached.
The NZPFU and FENZ meet on the 27th October 2022 to bargain.
FENZ needs to front up to that meeting with a proposal for settlement that embraces the principles in the Graeme Colgan report and provides for a fair and reasonable settlement including outstanding NZPFU claims that were not addressed in the report.
Respecting and valuing the work all our members do in their various roles is well overdue. FENZ needs to address the dire state of staffing, embrace genuine consultation to address safe systems of work including unsafe appliances and equipment, health and safety. Low wages and the inequity with other FENZ staff will be also be key.