News : Firefighter Union Slams ESA Response to Triple-0 Trauma
Nov 26, 2013 -- Suggestions that trained firefighters could be pulled from the ACT's triple-0 call centre have infuriated the union, who have warned it does not take threats to its jobs lightly.
The Emergency Services Agency has revealed plans for a major review of the triple-0 Communications Centre at their Fairbairn headquarters, which is shared by ACT Ambulance Service and Fire and Rescue staff.
The review will be broadened to respond to official work health and safety complaints made by firefighters earlier this month, which raise fears that overhearing traumatic conversations involving their ambulance counterparts is damaging their mental health.
ESA Commissioner Dominic Lane publicly announced the review in response to media questions about the health and safety troubles in the triple-0 centre. Mr Lane said the review would consider the option of removing trained firefighters from the call centre altogether.
That could see them replaced by trained call takers, who are not operational firefighters, but preferably have some fire experience.
That suggestion has angered the United Firefighters Union, who have accused the commissioner of threatening jobs in response to the raising of legitimate safety concerns. United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary David Livingstone said he was seeking urgent meetings with Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell to obtain assurances that the jobs of the triple-0 staff are safe.
"I think this is an extreme abuse of power by the commissoner," he said. "He's using a review into ComCen as a stick to beat a bunch of firefighters who have put in a work health and safety complaint."
"Our members are furious, understandably. They've waited 18 months for a resolution to this issue and the closest they've come is to have the commissioner tell them they're going to be sacked."
The Treasury-led review, due to start next month, is working alongside a drive to achieve the government's efficiency dividends in the ESA.
The ComCen review will also consider changing rostering arrangements for Fire and Rescue call takers, and will look at the possible removal of recline areas, where the staff rest while on shift.
Those recline areas are not available to ambulance staff.
Mr Livingstone said firefighters had worked hard to secure those industrial entitlements, which were protected in their collective agreement.
He said the way the Canberra ComCen currently worked was efficient, effective and guaranteed public safety. He said the ComCen firefighters were not just call takers, but were a critical part of the broader incident management system put in place by the government.
"The idea that we should get rid of them is just short sighted," Mr Livingstone said. "But that's not the issue here, I'm perfectly happy to have a debate, to have a conversation about the appropriateness of firefighters in ComCen, because I believe that it's absolutely appropriate," he said.
"But I'm not going to do that whilst there's a gun being held to the heads of my members because they put in a health and safety complaint."
The UFU is now seeking legal advice.
"We don't take threats to our jobs lightly," Mr Livingstone said. "We will not withdraw our health and safety complaints because our members have been threatened, and we will make sure that this becomes a safe workplace, whether the Commissioner likes it or not."
The ESA have offered short term fixes to try and deal with the firefighters concerns, including a renovation of the ComCen and a direction to ambulance staff to debrief outside, where possible.
Firefighters are currently in the middle of protracted collective agreement negotiations, which have been ongoing for nine months.
"If they're going to come to the table now and try and negotiate with us through The Canberra Times, then they're going to find that we'll be resistant to that," Mr Livingstone said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Triple Zero (000):
Triple Zero (000) is the primary national emergency number in Australia. The Emergency Call Service is operated by Telstra as a condition of its telecommunications license, and is intended only for use in life-threatening or time-critical emergencies. Other emergency numbers in Australia are 112 for GSM mobile and satellite phones, which is answered by a Triple Zero (000) operator and 106 for TDD textphones. Triple Zero (000) was also the emergency number in Denmark and Finland until the introduction of the 112 number in 1993.
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2013