PSA and Fisheries Officers Vocational Branch (FOVB) representatives attended the dispute conciliation along with the Department of Regional NSW IR and Department of Primary Industries Fisheries staff on Wednesday 31 August. The dispute related to the proposed deletion of Fisheries Officer roles from both Tumut and Jindabyne offices to create roles for an Inland Mobile Squad based in Albury, as well as the subsequent need for consultation on matters of workplace change and WHS.
There were arguments on the substance and timing of consultation with the FOVB and PSA and whether this amounted to a satisfactory amount of consultation. Whilst there is significant disagreement between the parties, the involvement of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) noted our concerns and discussions moved towards what is required now.
“Codification” of one-officer stations
The proposed deletion of those roles establishes an effective one-officer station in both Tumut (which is already a merged District) and Jindabyne. The PSA maintains that such operation opens staff to significantly higher work, including health and safety risks that require appropriate consultation and risk assessment. This has not taken place.
The argument from DRNSW is that there are several policies and procedures that address the issues surrounding “one-officer working” as well as recent reviews of officer safety.
The PSA’s argument was that District Fisheries Offices PSA/FOVB argue that Fisheries Districts Statewide have been created with at least two Fisheries Officers purposefully, to address risks to staff and whilst staff occasionally undertake work one up. This is not ideal and should not be considered the default. This is currently performed due to lack of resources and/or limited to specific types of patrolling.
It is expected that any risk assessment will highlight those risks.
Filling vacant regionally based roles
Our argument before the IRC revolved around the difficulty in filling regionally located Fisheries Officers’ roles and the effects on other staff brought in to assist. There is some kernel of truth to this. However, the PSA was concerned about what was perceived as the management construction of continued vacancies to justify the deletion of the long-standing vacant roles, rather than any misalignment of personal location preferences. DRNSW argued that this was not the case and that decisions to create the Inland Mobile Squad roles were not long-term in their making.
PSA position on one-officer stations
The PSA’s position is that two-Fisheries Officers’ stations should be the default position of the agency. And whilst acknowledging that there have been instances where there have been long-standing regional vacancies that have led to the pseudo one officer arrangement, the PSA rationale remains and is stronger than before.
Fisheries Officer safety review
Other discussions revolved around the operation of single-officer patrols through the eyes of the recent Independent Safety Review. This was provided to the PSA and FOVB in June this year and we are currently reviewing our submission in reply to the Independent Safety Review.
We note that parts of the review address the issue of one officer working where it is advised to minimise those activities when/if possible.
What’s the outcome?
The matter is set for a report back before Commissioner Sloan on 23 September with the following to be provided to the PSA prior to that date:
- DRNSW and DPI Fisheries will provide the PSA with a risk assessment of the proposed one-officer stations at Tumut and Jindabyne, working with the PSA and FOVB to provide commentary and input on the assessment.
- DRNSW will undertake recruitment (advertisement, culling and interview) of Mobile Squad roles, however will not offer roles or undertake contracts that will subvert any continued or escalated processes of the NSW IRC.
- The PSA and FOVB will continue in discussions with DPI Fisheries and provide input and consultation on the risk assessment.
PSA and FOVB Executive says thanks
The PSA acknowledges the support and solidarity provided to the PSA and FOVB Executive and affected members on this issue. The PSA/FOVB will continue to update and seek advice and commentary from our membership.
Whilst Matthew Cartwright is acting in the Program Leader role for the next six weeks, Matthew Proctor will undertake the duties of FOVB Chairperson.