21 Oct 2022

Firefighters' strikes put the public at risk - bosses

7:54 pm on 21 October 2022
Wellington fire fighters are fighting for more support

Wellington firefighters posted this message in July. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A firefighters' union has announced more strike action in two weeks' time, but it will put people at risk, the head of Fire and Emergency New Zealand says.

Relations between FENZ and firefighters have become acrimonious in 16 months of bargaining, with firefighters claiming lives are being put at risk with thin staffing levels and unsafe equipment and trucks, and FENZ rejecting those claims.

The union said yesterday that its members intended to stage full strikes between 11am and midday on four days: November 4th, 7th, 11th and 14th. However, if talks progress next week those strikes could be cancelled.

FENZ commander Russell Wood said all 111 calls for help directed to fire services would be responded to during the strikes, but some responses could be slower than normal.

Outside urban areas, volunteer firefighters were not taking part in this strike and would continue to respond, but in urban areas it would be a different story, Wood said.

"There will be significantly fewer firefighters than usual in the strike areas and fewer 111 communication centre dispatchers, so our responses will be delayed," he said.

"We do ask the public in urban areas, primarily served by career firefighters, to remain extra vigilant during these strikes next month."

"This has potential to put New Zealanders at risk and I urge the firefighters' union to reconsider this action, when we are both considering a comprehensive and complex set of recommendations and have an opportunity to make positive progress next week".

However Professional Firefighters' Union (NZPFU) secretary Wattie Watson said they would not have had to announce the latest strikes if FENZ had agreed to return to negotiations this week, instead of next Thursday.

This round of negotiations is expected to centre on a report containing recommendations prepared by mediator Graeme Colgan, a former Employment Court Judge. The contents of the report cannot be publicly released until 5pm tomorrow.

Watson said firefighters wanted FENZ to take the report's recommendations seriously.

"We want FENZ to be under no illusion that when we meet with them on the 27th October to discuss the ... report that we received a week ago - that we expect them to provide an offer that works on the principles and the basis of that report," she said.

"As the first of today's notified strike does not occur until after the 27th October 2022 meeting, the ball is in FENZ's court to genuinely demonstrate it will value and respect the work of all of our members and the critical role they have in protecting the community."

In response to the claim that union members were putting the public at risk, Watson said FENZ put the lives of the general public at risk every day by "rolling the dice on insufficient staffing, failing trucks that break down to and from fire calls and at accidents".

"So it is a bit rich to claim that industrial action is putting the public at risk.

"This is all down to FENZ's inability and incompetence to settle a collective agreement.

"We've been bargaining for 16 months. Enough is enough."

She said the members had put the notice of industrial action on to pressure FENZ to come to the table with a reasonable and fair settlement for the collective agreement.

FENZ commander Russell Wood said his side remained set on finding a resolution.

In August, firefighters walked off the job twice, in their first ever national strike, asking for better pay, increased staffing levels, increased mental health support and safer work procedures.

The United Fire Brigades Association (UFBA) said its 12,000 volunteer firefighter members were not part of the industrial dispute and would work during strike action. It said volunteers made up 85 percent of front line fire services.


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