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Fire & Rescue NSW welcomes IRC decision

Published: 21st November 2012

Last Friday the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) lifted a recommendation that Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) suspend the practice of taking a small number of Sydney metropolitan fire stations temporarily offline in order to rein in a blowout in overtime costs.

"We are pleased with the IRC decision, as this will help to curb excessive overtime," Commissioner Greg Mullins said.

"We acted in good faith by suspending the practice in accordance with the IRC's recommendation earlier this month, however the Fire Brigade Employees" Union failed to abide by the recommendations.

"The decision recognises that FRNSW routinely moves resources around Sydney for a range of reasons, for example during yesterday's major factory fire at Marrickville, and taking a small number of stations offline to avoid excessive overtime payments can be done without affecting public safety."

A review by the Auditor General found that firefighters have the highest rates of sick leave in the public sector. Fire & Rescue NSW also had the highest rates of sick leave of any fire service in the country. Last year this led to the overtime bill blowing out by more than $7 million over budget, and in just 3 months of the current financial year, almost 75% of the overtime budget has already been expended.

"On 4 shifts since Monday this week we have only had to take 1 of Sydney's 100 fire stations off line on each day shift, and none at all on each of the night shifts. This shows that despite the irresponsible scare-mongering by the Fire Brigade Employees' Union, this practice has no affect on public safety."

According to the Commissioner, it has been standard practice for over 100 years for the fire service to routinely take fire crews off line for a variety of reasons.

“Fire & Rescue NSW routinely reallocates and moves up to 10-15 fire station crews around Sydney on any particular day without impacting on response coverage.

"We're talking about a small number of metropolitan fire stations within an extensive and well resourced network. Community safety is not at risk, nor is our ability to respond to emergencies.

"We're effectively working to the "umpire's decision" and I urge the FBEU and its membership to do the same," Commissioner Mullins said.