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$100m more on offer

After months of strike action, gruelling negotiations, and claims that ‘lives are at risk’, firefighters are finally set to vote on a proposed settlement with Fire and Emergency NZ [FENZ].

The settlement, worth $145 million, has taken more than 18 months to realise but provides hard-fought gains for professional firefighters.

The settlement was agreed upon by FENZ and the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union [NZPFU] on Tuesday and is now before the members to ratify.

Masterton fire station officer and local union vice president Tim Scott said he was yet to speak to all members, but the reaction from the station so far was positive.

“From most of what I’ve seen, everyone is pretty happy with it.

“It goes a lot further than I think we were expecting.

“We’ve got income protection, we’ve got access to life insurance, and we’ve got reimbursement.”

Details of the settlement included wage increases up to 24 per cent, long-notice retirement benefits, financial assistance for all members to access income protection and life insurance, psychological support and blood-screening for the detection of early occupation cancer. In Wairarapa, only Masterton Fire Station is staffed by career firefighters. There are 18 professional firefighters, all of whom are unionised.

Scott considered the blood testing to be the biggest win.

“FENZ really didn’t want to give us that at the start, so it’s amazing to see it in there.

“It’s important to all our members to take advantage of this and get tested – cancers are the big occupational hazard.”

FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said it was a significant milestone and reflected the ongoing efforts of both parties during a difficult negotiation.

“We’re really pleased to have signed terms of settlement on a new collective agreement that will now be presented to our firefighters covered by that contract for ratification.

“It is a significant milestone to be able to present an offer that recognises the incredible work our firefighters do for their communities every day, recognising the changing nature of their role.”

Gregory said it had been a lengthy and complex negotiation.

“Notwithstanding the complexity of this negotiation, FENZ and the NZPFU share a commitment to the professional firefighters of Aotearoa, and the communities we serve.

“I acknowledge that it will be an ongoing piece of work to rebuild trust and confidence with our people. We are also committed to continue working constructively with the NZPFU to strengthen our relationship. It’s important that everyone at FENZ – volunteers, professional firefighters, and support staff – feel valued and respected.”

Scott agreed it would take time to repair relationships, but said they were professionals in moving forwards.

An NZPFU spokesperson said they recommended members accept the proposed settlement.

“NZPFU rejected FENZ’s previous offers that did not have the same safe systems of work or safety, health and wellbeing provisions.

“FENZ’s previous wage offers were dismal in comparison, and this current proposed settlement includes significant backdating.”

NZPFU said the overall numbers for the settlement put it into perspective.

“The costing for this offer is approximately $145m – $100m more compared to FENZ’s July offer costed at $45m.

“This proposed settlement is much more than just numbers, it is a start to appropriately addressing safe systems of work and necessary occupational health and wellbeing support and assistance.”

The settlement will go to members for ratification over the coming days, with the final vote being counted on December 18. Scott said industrial action would continue until the agreement is ratified.

However, further station walk-offs have been cancelled.

Masterton would be one of the final stations to hold a ratification meeting, currently scheduled for December 15.

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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