Rural Fire Service: Camping allowance and Award update - Public Service Association

Rural Fire Service: Camping allowance and Award update

Camping allowance

Back on 16 December 2021, the PSA won all members an entitlement to a camping allowance while accommodated in Rural Fire Service (RFS) base camps, along with all other circumstances where camping is required. The PSA also won all members an entitlement to a bedding and sleeping bag allowance. Your employer resisted these proceedings at every step in the process.

Following the win, the PSA entered negotiations with the RFS for back pay of the two allowances – camping allowance and bedding and sleeping bag allowance. Your employer initially took the position that, to receive back pay, all employees needed to sign deeds of release, which are contracts signing away your legal rights, and statutory declarations, which may give rise to criminal charges if false information was provided. This was a laughably strange position to take. After six months of negotiations, with further assistance from the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) and the integral contribution of your delegates, the PSA and RFS reached a sensible agreement for back pay.

Under the agreement, the RFS is considering back pay claims for the period from 2014 to 2021, which is two years beyond the limitation period. Employees need to complete a claim form and provide sufficient and relevant information. The RFS will consider the information provided. If insufficient information has been provided, they will advise you why your claim has been declined and you be able to resubmit your claim. The RFS issued the claim forms and related correspondence on 8 March 2023. The deadline to submit your claim is 10 April 2023.

The PSA strongly encourages you to submit your claim as this is your money that the RFS owes you!

RFS Award 

Following your employer’s decision to pull up stumps and decline to continue negotiations with the PSA for the creation of a new award in late 2021, a decision which has continued to stun the PSA, your union was forced to proceed to arbitration. Arbitration is the process where the IRC determines the employment conditions that should be conferred under an award based upon evidence and legal submissions from the PSA and RFS. It is a time consuming and costly process.

Due to the current constraints placed upon the IRC’s powers to arbitrate awards by the Government’s wages policy, it has been necessary for the PSA to approach the arbitration in two-stages.

The first stage is to ask the IRC to determine the current effect of the award. This stage of the proceedings was heard by the IRC on 14-15 December 2022 and focused on the meaning and effect of the overtime clause. The overtime clause, which is found at cl 7.9 of the current RFS Award, confers a highly beneficial overtime entitlement on employees who perform work (with approval or by direction) before 7:30am and after 6:00pm on weekdays or on weekends (by direction).

While the RFS’s position varied, part of its case was that local arrangements are compensation in lieu of overtime. The PSA took the position that local arrangements are irrelevant and rather overtime or leave in lieu of overtime, which is time off at penalty rate accrual, must be provided, with employees choosing their preferred entitlement. If the PSA is successful in this first stage, the PSA will pursue back pay on your behalf, as we have in respect to the camping allowance.

The IRC is yet to determine the first stage of the proceedings. Win or lose, the PSA will then proceed to the second stage which is to arbitrate the RFS Award. In the second stage, the PSA will seek that the Commission vary the RFS Award in accordance with the log of claims that 93 per cent of members voted in support of.

The PSA extends its sincere thanks to the hard-working members who were called as witnesses in both the camping allowance case and the first stage of the RFS Award arbitration. It is impossible for the PSA to win better conditions for employees in the RFS without brave members willing to be crossed examined by the RFS’s team of top barristers.


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