New Zealand Professional Firefighters Collective Employment Agreement

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Update on Collective Bargaining with NZ Professional Firefighters Union

Agreed statement from Fire and Emergency New Zealand, the NZ Professional Firefighters Union, and the Minister of Internal Affairs – 31 August 2022

On Tuesday 30 August Minister Tinetti brought Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU) together to assist in finding a way forward in the current collective bargaining impasse.

The meeting was constructive and the parties shared a willingness to work towards a solution. The following was agreed -

  1. The parties will enter facilitated mediation with the assistance of an agreed independent mediator.
  2. All strike notices will be suspended and no further industrial action will continue or occur.
  3. FENZ will withdraw the request for facilitated bargaining through the Employment Relations Authority.
  4. No further public communication will occur.

This agreement remains in place until September 30 2022 or unless otherwise agreed. 

Response to NZPFU Counter Proposal – 10 August

On 10 August, the NZPFU tabled a counter-proposal to Fire and Emergency’s current offer (which can be viewed below), adjusting some of their claims. 

Fire and Emergency costed a number of the claims and considered the counter-proposal. However, unfortunately the cost of the adjusted claims remains far beyond what is feasible for Fire and Emergency.  

You can view our response to the NZPFU’s counter-proposal

Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s current offer – 4 August 2022

On 4 August 2022, following mediation, Fire and Emergency made a revised offer to the NZPFU. The offer would see all firefighters’ base salaries increase by between 8 and 19 per cent over the next two years. Firefighters’ pay progression increases within their pay grades would continue as normal, in addition to the pay increases included in the new pay offer. 

Fire and Emergency engaged extensively and moved substantially to try and find a way forward that is acceptable to both parties. We consider the current offer to be fair and reasonable, given our context. 

The offer also includes: 

  • A proposed one off lump sum payment in lieu of the 2021 annual remuneration review for the period 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 of $2,000 (gross) per person for all PFU members covered by this agreement as at the date of ratification.
  • Revised health and wellbeing proposals in relation to health/blood screening and pro-active psychological support/supervision.
  • Proposal to schedule Terms of Settlement to the new collective agreement so as to make their terms contractual and therefore enforceable during the term of the new collective agreement.
  • Proposed new commitments regarding recruitment during the current financial year and reconvening the Establishment Committee.

View Fire and Emergency’s latest offer to the NZPFU in full

Notices of strike action – 4 August 2022 

On 4 August the New Zealand Professional Firefighters' Union (NZPFU) issued further notices of strike action. This followed the presentation of a substantial new pay offer which would see all firefighters’ base salaries increase by between 8 and 19 per cent over the next two years. 

The Notices advised the strike would take the form of a complete work stoppage for NZPFU members for the following dates and times: 

  • Friday 19 August, between 11am and 12pm.
  • Friday 26 August, between 11am and 12pm.

The notices apply to fire stations, region offices, district offices, training facilities and communication centres. 

Response to open letter to Members of Parliament – 13 July 2022 

The NZPFU posted an open letter on the firecrisis website and sent it to members of Parliament. 

Fire and Emergency prepared our own open letter in response and this was sent to the NZPFU Secretary on 13 July 2022. 

You can view this letter here. 

Fire and Emergency’s response addresses each of the points raised in the NZPFU’s letter, clarifies our position, and corrects inaccuracies. 

Update - 27 May 2022

On 27 May, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU) formally notified Fire and Emergency New Zealand that members had voted to reject Fire and Emergency’s offer and in favour of strike action.

It then issued notice of partial strike action to commence at 0.01 am on 13 June 2022 and end on ratification of a new collective agreement.

The strike notice covers bans on NZPFU conducting certain types of work at fire stations, regional offices, training centres and communications centres. The bans will not impact our ability to respond to incidents - career firefighters will continue to respond to emergencies.

Fire and Emergency has contingency plans to mitigate partial strike action and will be initiating these plans as required.

Fire and Emergency will continue to inform media about incidents but, due to the industrial action, some of the usual detail we’d provide may not be available as firefighters won’t be reporting it from the incident ground.

The New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union claims

The NZPFU has tabled over 100 claims in bargaining – so far they have said they are not willing to reduce or reconsider the vast majority of these claims.

In relation to pay, the Union has made claims for across the board salary increases totalling around 18%, as well claiming  a wide range of additional allowances and payments which would see increases in total earnings from both base salary and allowances (excluding overtime pay) of more than 40% for most firefighters.

These claims include new allowances for using specialist skills and vehicles, using a mobile phone, living in a Metro area, medical insurance and medical co-response as well as increases to public holiday pay rates, meal allowances, payments for training, and paid sick leave including paid leave to look after sick pets. 

The Union’s current claims amount to around $300 million over three years. To put this into context, Fire and Emergency’s total annual budget is around $617 million.

To date NZPFU has not moved from its original position in respect of its remuneration claims.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s offer

Fire and Emergency New Zealand made an offer to the NZPFU on Friday 8 April 2022. By that time the bargaining had been ongoing since June 2021 and the settlement offer reflected the significant work both parties had put into the process, including considering and responding to all of the claims made.

The offer reflected significant movement from Fire and Emergency across a range of matters. We accepted those claims which we considered we could reasonably accommodate and provided alternative proposals in response to others.

We believe the offer was a fair and reasonable one based on what firefighters currently earn compared to other relevant roles internally and externally, and other recent settlements both within Fire and Emergency and across the public sector. It was also consistent with the current Government Workforce Policy Statement that sets the parameters we need to operate within when negotiating pay increases, as a Crown agent.

Details of the offer included:

  • A total 3.3% increase on the total current annual remuneration budget, across the whole settlement offer.
  • Back paid increases to pay rates including annual market-based increases for all firefighters plus pay scale adjustments for many. These would have resulted in pay increases for individuals ranging between 1.5% and 11% targeted towards lower paid employees, but also increasing pay progression opportunities for many. The increases would have been effective from 1 July 2021.
  • Confirmation that a further remuneration review for the 2022 remuneration year would occur, through the normal annual remuneration review process.
  • A significant number of other adjustments to financial and non-financial terms and conditions, in response to specific issues raised by NZPFU during the bargaining.
  • No reductions to any current allowances, pay or conditions.

Claims for joint operational decision making

Many of the NZPFU’s claims seek to secure joint decision making on a range of operational matters.

Fire and Emergency already consults on operational matters including changes to how we currently do things, with the unions and associations that represent our people who are affected by those operational matters or changes.

We value their input and recognise many union and association members are subject matter experts in relation to a range of operational matters. These subject matter experts often have a significant role in designing and delivering key operational projects. Consultation on these matters helps us to achieve the best outcome, and one that we can all be committed to.

However there two significant difficulties, and risks, associated with moving from consultation to negotiated agreement on operational matters and changes:

  • Many operational matters or changes affect more of our people than just NZPFU members.
  • Because NZPFU only represent its members, if we were required to reach agreement with this union and none of the others, it would put members of other unions, and our people who are not represented by a union at all, at an unfair disadvantage.
  • The NZPFU, as the representative of its members only, often has a particular view on operational matters that may not be shared by Fire and Emergency because we are required to take a broader range of factors into account and hold the accountability for those decisions.
  • If we could only make operational decisions once agreement had been reached with the NZPFU, this would potentially have a paralyzing effect on our ability to make operational decisions and act accordingly, in any case where agreement could not be reached. In effect – a ‘right of veto’ for the NZPFU. It may also adversely affect the quality of the decisions we do make, and may potentially be inconsistent with some of our legislative obligations.

Fire and Emergency will continue to engage in good faith with NZPFU in relation to the bargaining, and have agreed to engage in further mediation with an independent party facilitating to try and move forward to a position that is affordable and does not compromise our operational decision making and effectiveness.

To date NZPFU has rejected FENZ’s offer but has not made a counteroffer or indicated any willingness to move from their original pay claims so engaging in further mediation will hopefully help move us forward.

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Current pay and conditions for Firefighters

The Collective Agreement between Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the NZPFU covers members who are paid firefighters and station officers, communications centre staff, and other operational roles such as trainers, volunteer support officers, and advisors who deliver community readiness and risk reduction services to communities.

Fully funded training and development

Trainee Firefighters need no previous qualifications and start with a fully funded 12-week residential course at our National Training Centre (NTC) in Rotorua. Upon successful completion, they graduate to Firefighter and are posted to a station. 

Firefighters then work through a fully funded ongoing training and development programme while on the job, including NTC delivered modules, over the next two years to achieve progression to Qualified Firefighter.

Qualified Firefighters are then expected to continue their Fire and Emergency funded training and development through to Senior Firefighter over the next two years.  Most firefighters successfully complete the on-station Fire and Emergency funded Senior Firefighter programme to achieve that rank within approximately five years at Fire and Emergency. 

Those with higher leadership aspirations can achieve Station Officer qualifications after two years at Senior Firefighter, upon successful completion of the Fire and Emergency funded Station Officer Programme. Senior Station Officer is the most senior station based operational firefighter response role.

All personnel who respond to medical calls receive specific training for first aid for trauma and medical emergency situations. All frontline firefighters are trained to perform CPR, defibrillation, manage airways, and provide oxygen therapy. They are equipped with defibrillators, airways, and oxygen therapy equipment.

Remuneration

The Trainee Firefighter salary of approximately $46,000 per annum reflects the commencement level of the role and the intensive investment in learning and development that takes new recruits with no firefighting experience through structured progression to Qualified Firefighter. Fire and Emergency covers all these training costs and incremental salary steps are applied following attainment of progression milestones. 

The base salary for Qualified Firefighter is currently $58,400 and for Senior Firefighter it is $65,000.

All firefighters who have completed their initial 12-week training course have the opportunity to earn significantly more than their base salary by undertaking additional or specialist duties and working overtime, as described below. This is usual for nearly all firefighters. On average, firefighters’ total annual earnings are currently around $97,000 and officers’ total annual earnings are around $137,000.

Retention

Turnover amongst career firefighters is currently 3.6% each year.

The average length of employment for career firefighters with Fire and Emergency is 17 years.

Hours of work

We take very seriously the need to be able to respond as needed to protect New Zealand communities. Even though firefighters on average spend only about 6% of their rostered work time attending incidents, we roster our firefighters so we can respond to multiple incidents 24/7.

Hours of work for firefighters’ average 42 hours per week, before overtime, based on two-day shifts followed by two-night shifts, and four days off.   Day shifts are ten hours duration, including on station skills maintenance and duties, and work in the community as well as response to emergency events including fire, motor vehicle accident, medical response and other emergency services during natural disasters and weather events. 

Night shifts are 14 hours duration. During night shifts firefighters usually remain on station unless they are called to respond to an emergency event. They do perform some off station non-emergency tasks on occasion but are not normally required to undertake work tasks between the hours of 11pm and 7am and are able to rest and relax with bedrooms provided during this period, to maintain a state of readiness, for responding to an emergency event.

Overtime

‘Call-back overtime’ is when a Firefighter is asked, and agrees, to work an entire additional shift. Overtime can also be incurred if a firefighter shift is extended while at an incident while the following shift transition happens. On those occasions it incurs a 3-hour minimum payment of overtime.  Overtime pay is at 1.5 x the Firefighter’s usual standard rate of pay which includes their base salary and any ongoing allowances they receive.

For example, if a Firefighter agrees to work an additional 10-hour day shift they will receive an additional 15 hours of their usual pay or for a 14 hour night shift, they will receive an additional 21 hours of their usual pay.

Fatigue Management

We have a Fatigue Management Policy, which sets out the obligations that all personnel (career and volunteer) and their supervisors to monitor and manage the risks of fatigue. We have clear policies and procedures in place to ensure our firefighters are looked after and continue to monitor overtime levels. This includes comprehensive and free confidential counselling support for our people and their families.

Leave

The roster cycle for fire fighters (and staff in Communications Centres) includes rostered leave of 14 consecutive days within each 160-day cycle to address fatigue and provide for rest and recreation.  After seven years total service an additional three days annual leave per annum is provided, and after 14 years total service a further four days per annum is provided in addition to that received after seven years.

Other forms of paid leave include sick leave of four weeks per year for firefighters, or more depending on length of service. Paid leave also includes three days partner leave for employees whose partners are having or adopting a baby, with a return to work payment of 30 days’ pay after parental leave for those who have assumed the primary responsibility for childcare and returned at the end of their leave. The payment is made six months after returning from parental leave as the caregiver.

Understanding that shift work can be restrictive on family life a firefighter when working an overtime shift can choose to bank up to eight shifts instead of claiming the payment, they can then use that shift as a leave shift at a later date. Firefighters also have a provision when rostered on duty to swap shifts with others off duty if this is in line with the fatigue management policy and the replacement firefighter has any necessary specialist skill sets. This provides for greater flexibility within the shift system and provides greater balance for personal requirements.

After 20 years’ service, employees receive long service leave of 28 days

Additional key benefits

All firefighters are eligible to participate in the enhanced Fire Superannuation Scheme. Employees can contribute up to six percent of their salary with their contributions matched by Fire and Emergency at $1.52 for every dollar put in by the employee.

As part of that package, firefighters have a guaranteed medical retirement payout of no less than two years pay. 

In addition, all our people, including volunteers have cover for personal injury, including death, occurring on the job or on the way to and from work.

Fire and Emergency’s Injury Management unit also provides specialist support for all staff to aid rehabilitation and return to work.

An annual physical competency allowance is paid to those required to undertake the Physical Competency Assessment (PCA).  The calculation for the PCA works out to be a payment of between $1,391 to $2,714 depending on the role the person is in.

Psychological wellbeing

We recognise that responding to emergencies can be psychologically demanding. That’s why Fire and Emergency provides a tiered framework of support services for our people as well as tools and training. As trauma can vary for each individual, this framework allows our people to access services based on their individual needs.

The support available includes, free counselling, professional psychological support, peer support, dedicated safety health and wellbeing advisors and welfare officers, a health monitoring programme, chaplaincy, and Tikanga Māori-based services. These support channels can be accessed through self-referral or workplace referral (through the safety, health and wellbeing team). We also offer support proactively where a specific need for support is identified i.e. when a crew has attended an incident involving someone known to them. Counselling is also available to the immediate family members of our firefighters for any reason that they may need it.  

Fleet

Fire and Emergency manages and maintains one of the largest fleets of commercial vehicles in the country. The public can be assured that the Fire and Emergency fleet is safe and suitable for the job. We service our appliances on a regular schedule to ensure they well maintained. When we do so, we provide a replacement appliance.

When breakdowns occur, we take appropriate actions to fix these, including identifying underlying issues. We are also investing in the future of our fleet – including progressing procurement for aerials and the Type 3 pumping appliance next generation project.

We have around 1,240 fire trucks and specialist response vehicles across the country, responding to more than 80,000 emergencies a year.

Fire trucks are very specialised with specific requirements to enable our emergency response. We maintain the fleet to a high standard so our fire trucks are always ready to respond 24/7.

We are a 24/7 first response organisation. So, we always have contingency plans in place should a particular fire truck, of any type, be unavailable for any reason – for example attending another incident, being used for training or on scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. The nearest available truck will be sent, and our people are trained to adjust their tactics at an incident if required.

We replace older vehicles in the fleet which are at their end of life, going out to the market routinely with the aim of getting the best outcomes for our fleet.

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Pay and conditions for other positions covered by the PFU collective agreement

National Communications Centre staff

National Communications Centre staff answer emergency phone calls, interpret the information received, and dispatch crews to attend incidents from three centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  They benefit from a structured progression framework that takes them from an entry level Grade 1 Communicator position with opportunities to progress through to Shift Manager.

Hours of work in the Communications Centres are two days and two nights on, then four days off. Where staff agree to work additional hours, they receive overtime pay

Base salaries in the Communications Centres range from approximately $48,000 to $91,000.

National Communications Centre staff benefit from the same leave entitlements and additional key benefits as firefighters (note they are not required to undertake the PCA).

Fire and Emergency operates one virtual emergency Communication Centre in three locations: in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. When someone needs help and calls 111 requesting Fire and Emergency, they are directed to the nearest centre. If that centre is experiencing high call volumes, then the 111 calls automatically reroute to the next centre.

This workforce capability in conjunction with Communication Centre configuration, allows for varying staff numbers and provides a good service to the New Zealand public.

Trainers, Advisors and Support roles

Support and advisor roles include firefighter training, volunteer support, risk reduction and community readiness and response.

Many firefighters choose to progress into these positions where they can apply and further develop the skills, knowledge and experience they have developed as operational firefighters.

People employed in these positions work an average of 40 hours per week, between the normal hours of 7:00am to 6:00pm, Monday to Friday. Due to the operational, community facing nature of these positions there can be work outside these hours, including on the weekends, and some on-call work may be required. Allowances, overtime pay and/or time off in lieu compensate for work completed outside of normal hours.

Base salaries for these positions currently range from approximately $70,000 to $108,000.

People employed in these operational roles benefit from the same additional key benefits as firefighters.

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