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2019 proves a tough year for AWU Firefighters

December 26, 2019

Our win on emergency services status in Victoria 

This year for the first time, Forest Firefighters in Victoria finally reaped the benefits of the long fight for emergency services status.

Despite our AWU members taking part in major fire battles, including acts of incredible heroism on Black Saturday, they had been treated as second-class citizens by the Victorian Government.

Recognition as emergency service workers has brought our Forest Firefighters into line with other emergency workers, with whom they work shoulder to shoulder in fires, floods and on search-and-rescue operations.

On a practical level, it also means that their super has increased to 13.5% rather than 9.5%, and they also enjoy a much better disability insurance package.

It’s been estimated that these extra super contributions could result in an extra $100,000 of lifetime retirement savings.

Being acknowledged for what they do, finally gives Forest Firefighters the respect they are due, which is the very least they deserve. Members now have a deal which is commensurate with their commitment to serving the public and the risks they take when doing so.

Hands off our NSW State Forests

Earlier this year the NSW Government signalled it was planning to sell of the NSW Forestry Corporation ‚Äď the largest manager of commercial native and plantation forests in NSW, with more than two million hectares of state forests and an output of 14 per cent of Australia‚Äôs timber production.

This is a profitable, state-owned asset enjoyed by millions of Australian who hunt, walk and fish through these vast lands, and is home to an array of endangered wildlife including koalas. It also employs 500 staff, who undertake an array of fire management duties. We have no confidence that privatised owners will allow access, care for our wildlife or understand the importance of fire management.

We have launched a campaign to stop this privatisation and urge you to get on board.

We are actively lobbying the NSW Labor Opposition to support our campaign and plan to hold town hall meetings across the state in the New Year. We will also be sending out stickers and posters to our members, so please display them wherever you can.

Please fill out this form to make sure your local MP knows you are opposed to the sale of our precious public assets. We have to stop this cash-grabbing sell-off.

A new EBA for Tasmanian firefighters

It’s been a busy year for the Tasmanian AWU Fire Crews members in Parks and Wildlife. In January 2019, devastating fires swept across large areas of Tasmania, threatening towns and causing significant damage and loss of pristine wilderness.

AWU Fire Crew members provided submissions into the review of those fires, seeking more resources, staffing and training for fire fighters. We also called on the government to invest in more permanent Fire Crew, who can undertake planned burning and mitigation work during the off season to help protect Tasmania for what seems to be more severe fire seasons each year.

AWU members from Tasmania are currently helping out their brothers and sisters on the fire ground right throughout NSW, just as our NSW colleagues had assisted us earlier this year. We wish them the best.

On the industrial front, fire fighters have been fighting hard to secure a new Agreement with pay rises and more permanent roles in the Parks Fire Crew. We have had some success in gaining more part-time permanent fire crew positions, and had to take industrial action in pursuit of an acceptable pay rise, but there is still a long way to go in order for there to be proper resourcing of the PWS Fire Crew in Tassie.

Members will continue to fight to ensure they have properly staffed and resourced crew to ensure the safety and protection of Tasmania’s life, property and wilderness area.

The PWS Fire Crew taking action.

 

WA fires intensify as heatwave continues

WA’s long bushfire season is heating¬†up¬†after several years of mild weather, and it’s all hands on deck for the AWU fire crews. Half of the 300-strong team are committed to two major bushfires in the area, and while the fires are finally slowing down, clean-up and control will still be a massive job for the team.

There is no doubt that the WA firefighters, like many throughout Australia, are understaffed in terms of area and coverage. Nearly half of AWU firies will be away from their own regional areas and district at any given time, and the rest will be monitoring the heatwave conditions, which are set to worsen throughout the summer. Although we operate with other agencies, we simply do not have the manpower to cover the vast expanse of WA and the many at-risk areas. Our crew will be working hard this summer, and we wish them all the best.

AWU members in WA are also preparing for a new agreement, as the current EBA expires in April 2020. It’s been 11 years since industrial action has taken place with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, and we are hopeful that next year’s negotiations will progress smoothly.

Bushfire season the worst on record 

We’re in the midst of one of the worst droughts ever on record, and our forests are tinder dry. We should be throwing every resource at this crisis but in NSW, the Government recently carried out a major restructure of national parks. Around a quarter of our most skilled and experienced firefighters exited the service.

When you factor in that we have 53 vacancies ‚Äď equating to a loss of some 26 firefighting units ‚Äď it‚Äôs putting lives at unnecessary risk over the coming summer months, both for our members and the public.

As a result, we have seen members sent to fires with no crew leaders, and inexperienced officers trapped in cars waiting for blazes to go over them. All the while we have experienced, ready and willing former firefighters wanting to go back into action and help. As you know, these jobs are dangerous enough without making them harder via bloody-minded cutbacks.

We’re repeatedly telling the NSW Government this, but they are not listening and are not acting.

We’ve also of course heard some wonderful tales of heroism and of native wildlife being saved, including this very lucky koala below, care of our forestry teams in NSW.

A NSW Forestry worker rescuing a koala from the incoming fires.

Fighting fires in Queensland since September

For the AWU’s National Parks Rangers in Queensland, fire-fighting season began early this year. AWU members have been fighting fires on the Sunshine Coast since September.

During this time, AWU members have responded to fires at Great Sandy National Park, Cooloola, Fraser Island and at Noosa National Park.

AWU Rangers have indicated that while it’s not unusual to be fighting several fires at once, the length of the season has stretched the limited resources available.

The photos below are all from Cooloola, where two fires sprang up after lighting storms last week. Members are also battling four wildfires around Gympie.


Fighting fires in Cooloola.

Thanks to all our rangers for their work and also a shout out to AWU Gympie Hospital delegate Daniel Allen (pictured) who helped fight fires at Peregian Beach at Noosa in September.

 
AWU delegate Daniel Allen fighting fires with the RFS

 

Stopping the exploitation of junior workers in NSW

Our lowest-paid field officers the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service are being underpaid with no career path progression.

They are being forced to undertake higher skilled work for no extra money. Members have taken this fight to the Commission this year, and will be back again for another week of hearings in February 2020.

This campaign comes at a time when we need to increase the ranks of our firefighters. We need junior staff to feel valued, want to stay on in the service and learn essential firefighting skills as they progress their careers. This is yet another indication that this NSW Government has no plan in place to deal with the current, let alone any future bush fire crises.

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