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Fire brigade hoping for agreement

Morale is low in Masterton Fire Brigade, with the station’s career firefighters working excessively long hours and further strike action on the horizon.
However, hope remains that recent recommendations for a collective agreement will signal a path forward after more than a year of negotiations between the New Zealand Fire Fighters Union [NZFPU] and Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz].
The recent report by former Employment Court judge and independent mediator Graeme Colgan was made public last week.
The report covered recommendations for remuneration, staffing, health, safety and wellness, and was billed as the basis for bargaining when the union and Fenz next meet on Friday.
Senior firefighter Tony Gibbs said the Masterton crew had discussed the recommendations and were “reasonably okay” with them, but they would remain in limbo until after Friday’s meeting.
“As far as we are concerned we could talk about the areas that we both agree to now, but the fact is, the employer won’t meet with us until the 27th.”
He said scheduled strike action would remain in place in the interim.
The union announced last week that four one-hour station walk-offs would be held between 11am and midday on November 4, 7, 11, and 14.
“We don’t want to be walking off the job at all, that’s the feeling.
“It is an absolute nightmare for us, especially if something happens. It’s a huge emotional strain.”
Gibbs said if the union and Fenz went in with an open mind and could find common ground on a least a “few things” the walk-offs could cease, and a conclusion to the saga could not come soon enough.
“If you asked me 16 months ago if we’d still be here now, I would have said no.”
He said firefighters were still facing resourcing challenges and the drawn-out negotiations contributing to low morale.
“Morale is not high to be fair.
“We are working excessively long hours. A lot of the guys are doing 80.
“About three weeks ago I did 100 hours, we’re just so short.”
He said the recommended 18 fulltime career staff was about to drop to 16, with no new permanent staff on the horizon.
“We’ve been told to get someone to cover from Wellington, but they’re ringing us once or twice a week to cover there.
“They asked for someone for a day and a night yesterday in the Hutt [Sunday], but we couldn’t do it.”
Among his findings, Coglan said staff shortages had manifested in another issue at the heart of the bargaining – “significant levels of overtime being worked” to ensure coverage at all stations.
He said retention of inadequately paid staff and their goodwill and commitment should not be taken for granted by Fenz.
However, he said Fenz’s recruitment promises were encouraging and the organisation should be given the opportunity to “make good on its solemn commitment to recruit more and good-quality firefighters and communications staff”.
Fenz chief executive Kerry Gregory said the organisation recognised Colgan’s final recommendations as a key step toward settling a new collective agreement and rebuilding trust.
‘Our aim is for a collective agreement that’s fair for our professional firefighters, as well as being affordable and sustainable for Fire and Emergency so that our career firefighters can continue to serve our communities.”
He said, however, that he had hoped strike action would cease in the interim.
NZPFU secretary Wattie Watson said if Fenz embraced the findings and principles in Colgan’s report it would make an offer to settle the bargaining in a way that respected and valued its members.

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