Taking action for positive outcomes for all brigades

  Posted on 16th February 2017 by Loralee Hyde in UFBA News

Message from George Verry, Chief Executive Officer

The vision of the UFBA is: Better,more sustainable emergency services for New Zealand communities.

What are we doing to meet our vision? What positive outcomes have we achieved for our members—career, volunteer, urban, rural and industrial—through working in partnership with the FENZ Transition Team?

The united voice of all brigades

Two key roles of the UFBA are to provide effective advocacy and support services for all member brigades and their personnel.

When the latest reforms were announced by Minister Peter Dunne in May 2015, the UFBA moved swiftly to make sure the Government, the NZFSC and NZFS (and now the FENZ Transition Team) listen to the strong, united voice of all brigades—career, volunteer, urban, rural and industrial.

We adopted a strategic, positive and evidence-based approach to our work within the sector—this is working well.

We have worked hard to make sure we are viewed as a trusted partner rather than just another stakeholder.

Having others design and write our future without the full knowledge of our environment generates many risks and is unlikely to attract buy-in and support from member brigades.

We believe it is important to help write our own story, creating our own future within the framework set out by Government. It makes more sense to take proactive actions on behalf of all our members rather than remaining passive and then reacting to situations after the horse has bolted.

UFBA/FRFANZ partnership

The UFBA in partnership with FRFANZ continues to work closely with the FENZ Transition Team and the NZFSC.

Work is now proceeding at pace. Provided the FENZ Bill is enacted into law, Day 1 for FENZ will occur on 1 July—less than 20 weeks away.

Supporting transition projects

The UFBA Board (in particular, Director Bill Butzbach), management and members are supporting transition projects relevant to our members in two key ways:

  1. To facilitate connections between FENZ projects and interested volunteers from urban and rural member brigades, and
  2. To provide strategic and tactical advice to FENZ teams across five workstreams.

Most of our day-to-day involvement is with the People and Change workstream, ensuring that the voice of all UFBA members is reflected in the design work.

To support our transition work, the UFBA Advocacy Reference Panel comprising a range of experienced and expert brigade members and UFBA and FRFANZ representatives has met for the first time. This strategy will help ensure we get the best possible outcomes for our members and their communities.

Our current work with FENZ

The UFBA is currently working with FENZ on:

Our FENZ Bill Submission

Hon Peter Dunne tabled the FENZ Bill in Parliament on 30 June 2016. Following extensive consultation with members, UFBA/FRFANZ made a comprehensive joint submission on the Bill.

The Government Administration Committee reported back to Parliament on 22 December—the Committee regarded a number of recommendations made in our joint submission favourably.

Positive outcomes

UFBA/FRFANZ recommendations

1) Spell out the status of volunteer fire brigades from the commencement of FENZ in legislation

Now addressed: New clause 10A of Schedule 1 sets out that all agreements of service under section 34 of the Fire Service Act 1975 continue until the agreements either expire or new arrangements are agreed between volunteer fire brigades and FENZ.

Given the existing agreements of service effectively establish the nature of the engagement between individual volunteers and the organisation, this amendment constitutes a very significant win for UFBA/FRFANZ.

Next steps

We are having discussions with FENZ on the format of the new arrangements.

The relationship with the volunteer will be based on modern volunteer principles with a primary focus on:

The relationship the volunteer will have with FENZ:

2) Strengthen the obligation on FENZ to consult with organisations representing volunteers in certain circumstances

Now adopted: New clause 13(3)(d)(ia) requires FENZ to consult with associations or unions representing or advocating for personnel when formulating FENZ’s operating principles.

Similarly, amended clause 141 requires FENZ to consult with the representatives of persons who are likely to be substantially affected by the dispute resolution process.

The wording of clause 33(1)(b) covering the primary obligation to consult volunteers and their representatives remains the same.    

3) Clarify the position regarding the taking over of response assets and their transfer to communities that did not raise the funds to acquire them

Now addressed: By satisfactory amendments to clause 17 of Schedule 1.

Where there was little support

Several UFBA/FRFANZ recommendations attracted little support from the Select Committee.

1) Delete Local Committees from the Bill and assign their functions to Executive Committees under the MCDEM legislation

Result: Rejected. However, the Committee made extensive changes to the name, powers and functions of  Local Advisory Committees.  

Adding ‘Advisory’ to the Committee name effectively addresses one of our concerns—this change makes it clear the role is a bottom-up advisory one intended to support the national planning function rather than a top down executive role.

2) Retain gratuities for urban volunteers transferred to FENZ and incorporate transferred rural volunteers into the gratuity arrangement

Result: Ignored. However, new clause 23(4) makes its clear that nothing in the Act prevents the Board from providing a gratuity scheme if it so determines.

In summary

The Bill as reported back by the Select Committee responds satisfactorily to the primary concerns of UFBA/FRFANZ.

Our joint submission noted the ‘permissive’ approach taken to drafting the Bill left basic but vital questions of organisational structure and operating framework to the NZFSC to determine as matters of policy.

We recommended the fundamental relationship between the community, an individual volunteer and FENZ be prescribed in law and that it be by way of independently constituted local brigades or fire forces. 

While the Bill signals changes to these relationships in future, the existing relationships will carry on until the parties agree to change them.

The obligations on FENZ to consult volunteers and their representatives on all matters which affect volunteers offer substantial (but not absolute) assurance that change will not be arbitrarily imposed on the volunteer sector.   

Bill now better serves brigades

We consider the interests of all brigades and their respective associations are substantially better served in the Bill which has now passed its second reading.

Regarding ‘advisory committees’ and ‘organisational structures and operating models’, we are encouraged by our fallback position—we are co-designing this work with FENZ.

We and our members are in a relatively good place.

NZFSC Policy Statements

The NZFSC has published a number of Policy Statements on the high level design of the new FENZ organisation, the service delivery framework and the chain of command. We consider the approach taken in these statements is cautious and orderly.

UFBA/FRFANZ are well placed to continue to deliver excellent advocacy on behalf of our members—the amended Bill if enacted in its current form will assist greatly with this objective.

FENZ Chief Executive Role

Recommendation 30 of the Swain Report stated: That the position of Chief Executive be separate to, and distinct from, any other leadership roles in the fire service.

The UFBA is pleased the current NZFSC has already confirmed this action. We believe this is very important to successfully bringing together so many different groups into a unified fire and emergency services organisation—career, volunteer, rural, urban, and industrial brigades.

A separate Chief Executive will also allow for more effective engagement with communities, agencies within our sector, the public and the wider community.

The new Chief Executive must see the world through many lenses, bridge significantly different cultures and take a balanced view to the support needs of all FENZ personnel including support staff.

We consider it essential the new leader does not bring any dominant cultural view to FENZ or be captured by any particular group. International experience has shown that such arrangements in similar circumstances have resulted in reforms failing.

The current temporary positions of National Commander (Urban) and National Fire Manager (Rural) are very different from the previous national manager roles.They are now responsible for setting the strategic direction of operations and have operational line management authority.

The UFBA believes this may bring a better balance to decision making within the leadership team than in the past.

FENZ Volunteer Co-Design Reference Group (VCRG)

Recently the FENZ Transition Team asked the UFBA for assistance with forming a group of volunteers to provide input and feedback on various co-design projects—including the volunteer strategy for FENZ and the relationship the volunteer has with FENZ.

We immediately sprung into action to seek expressions of interest from a pool of experienced and expert volunteers from a wide range of volunteer brigades and rural fire forces. This included contacting many UFBA Leadership & Governance Workshop graduates.

I am delighted 58% of the accepted applicants for the VCRG are Leadership & Governance Workshop graduates.

This very positive result shows this UFBA workshop is the ideal course to enhance the skills and knowledge of firefighters.

To find out how a UFBA Leadership and Governance Workshop could develop your skills click here

Our ongoing advocacy

At the UFBA Conference in Christchurch in October, we discussed our ongoing advocacy agenda. This work sits outside the co-design work we are undertaking with the FENZ Transition Team.

Much of this advocacy relates to the recommendations set out in the Swain Review 2012 that were not supported or only partially supported by the previous NZFSC and Senior Fire Service Leadership.

We remain committed to ensuring:

1) Recommendation 17: That the NZFSC ensures volunteer sustainability programmes are appropriately resourced, closely monitors the levels of management time and energy applied to sustaining and fostering volunteering, and maintains oversight of progress against critical milestones.

The FENZ Transition Team has taken this into account and work is planned.

2) Recommendation 18: That the NZFSC develops special courses for first time managers of fire services volunteers and the remuneration packages of all fire service managers take into account the maintenance of positive relationships with volunteers.

3) Recommendation 20: That the NZFSC considers establishing a senior management position responsible for building and sustaining the quality of the relationship between the NZFS and the volunteer arm of the service.

This recommendation should link to Recommendation 18 (responsibilities of fire managers). This will ensure a system-wide, more balanced focus national and local (both) on a significant portion of the workforce.  

We will continue to advocate for the establishment of this role or similar, at deputy chief executive level.

4) Recommendation 21: That the NZFSC ensures members of volunteer brigades enjoy terms and conditions of engagement with the NZFS that are in all ways equal to those that apply to employees of the NZFS and all appointment, performance assessment and disciplinary processes for volunteers be founded on principles of fairness and natural justice.

This is a mandatory statutory requirement for FENZ, as more weight has been placed on the FENZ role as a Crown entity (Crown Agent). As a Crown Entity, FENZ is required to be a ‘good employer’ in accordance with section 118 of the Crown Entities Act 2004.

The FENZ Board has been directed  to apply the same principles to volunteers in every practical way as if they were employees. The practical effect of this relates to equal employment opportunities etc.

5) Recommendation 26: That the NZFSC takes a more rigorous risk-based approach to allocating resources between reduction and response activities and that in this respect the outputs of the National Resource Allocation Model be given greater weight in strategic decisions.

This measure is important as it:

6) Recommendation 28: That any sections of the new fire services legislation dealing with the structure and organisational form of NZFSC as a Crown Agent be aligned with the principles of the Crown Entities Act.

See Recommendation 21 in para 4.

The FENZ Bill has now passed its second reading. The next step is for MPs to consider the Bill part by part and debate it in detail. 

The UFBA will continue to advocate for a positive culture that supports change for our members and embraces community focus and volunteer sustainability. We will keep you informed of progress.

17 February 2017

To keep up-to-date with the actions the UFBA is taking on behalf of all members during the transition to FENZ click here

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