'There will never be trust': FENZ management lose goodwill as union agrees to cut industrial action

7:15 am on 1 September 2022

A firefighter is warning that trust in FENZ has deteriorated to a point where it cannot be regained unless there are changes in management.

Auckland Central firefighters strike on 26 August 2022.

Firefighters strike in Auckland central on 26 August 2022. Photo: Supplied / Jemimah Peacocke

After an impasse in negotiations saw firefighters walk off the job across the country, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union and Fire and Emergency NZ have agreed to halt industrial action and find a way forward but one firefighter warns trust in FENZ management has been lost.

Strikes came amid smouldering tension between the parties after both sides reached an impasse following 13 months of negotiations.

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti brought both sides together to help find a way forward in the current collective bargaining impasse.

Following that meeting, the union agreed all strike notices would be suspended and no further industrial action would continue or occur. FENZ agreed to withdraw the request for facilitated bargaining through the Employment Relations Authority.

Both parties signed up to facilitated mediation with the assistance of an agreed independent mediator.

"The meeting was constructive and the parties shared a willingness to work towards a solution," the Professional Firefighters' Union national secretary Wattie Watson said in an agreed statement.

All parties, including Tinetti, also agreed they would not provide further comment to the public.

But one firefighter, who wished to remain anonymous, spelled out his hopes and concerns to RNZ, warning the next round of talks "have to be meaningful".

"They have to address every concern that we, as a collective, have brought. That means recognition of occupational cancers, over-inflated head office, physiological support, unreliable equipment and, finally, obviously pay rates that at least keep up with inflation."

All so that "firefighters would not get more broken every day", he said.

He also warned of the damage done to the relationship between paid firefighters and FENZ management, and suggested members of the leadership team needed to go.

"What they have shown is a disregard to the ones on the ground doing the work. If they are still in place, I have little confidence."

"There will never be trust, in my view, of management at FENZ while those that put us in this position are still leading it," he said.

But the firefighter did trust the union.

"If the union have agreed to go into this [facilitated mediation] they must feel there is some hope."

Two hour-long strikes in August were tough for firefighters, many of whom had never walked off the job before but felt they had little other choice.

"None of this was easy for us," the anonymous firefighter said.

"To walk off the job was the worst thing in the world," he finished.

FENZ and the union are not commenting.

Minister steps in

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti had several meetings with both FENZ and the firefighter's union this month, though her office would not give an exact number.

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Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The minister said she first stepped in when negotiations broke down in May and helped to get an independent mediator.

Following the first nationwide strike on 19 August, Tinetti told RNZ she would "be working incredibly hard to find a solution".

"Sometimes that might mean that I overstep the remit that I have as minister for Internal Affairs, but this is in the best interest of our country and I will do whatever I can do," she said.

Tinetti's office did not respond to a question from RNZ on whether the minister had gone beyond her remit.

"The minister is responsible for the legislative framework for FENZ, for monitoring the Crown's ownership interest in FENZ, and for appointing FENZ Board members," a statement said.

The industrial action is off until the end of September.

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