Bill’s Blog - Understanding Governance and our Constitution

  Posted on 13th November 2018 by Nick Cottrell in UFBA blog, UFBA News

Policies, legislation, rules and regulations, constitution, remits, submissions, governance, quorum... It’s a minefield of terminology out there and we often make assumptions that everybody in our sector knows the differences between each, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

The UFBA  is built upon rules and agreements (or regulations) that have been in place for many years, slowly tweaked over time through annual remits at Conference and AGM.  The Constitution or rules of the Association, is the guiding document to ensure that the Operational arm of the association is running the way the members expect it to.  When the needs of the membership change, they have the right to request (from the rest of the membership) specific changes. All changes to the Constitution have to be agreed by all the owners of our Association, the fire brigades, and fire forces. 

The way the membership can make these changes is by presenting a “remit” to the AGM. A remit is a proposal to the membership to make a significant change to the Constitution so that the operational and governance of the association can ensure they are working for the membership.  So that the association can be confident that the changes are what the majority of the membership wants to happen, we have to have a quorum of people to vote on the change. A quorum is a minimum amount of membership representation in one place for one meeting (the AGM) who have the authority to vote on changes. 

How we work within the law

It is a legislative requirement for a quorum to be set, under the Charities and Incorporated Societies Act. The minimum requirement for an Association such as the UFBA to have as their quorum as outlined in law is 15 members. In the UFBA constitution this is set at 40% (or 219 members). This is quite high for a Not for Profit entity.  In fact we have many more than our minimum 40% turn out to vote at our AGM. Over the last seven conferences we have seen growth from 40% to nearly 60% of our members represented, which shows a great level of engagement of our members. This is a high turnout by association membership standards.

Legislative requirements is a term that we often hear. Legislation are the laws that collectively are used by our government to run New Zealand. If we say we have a legislative requirement, this means that the UFBA has an obligation to comply to a piece of law that has been set out by the government.  Some of the laws that we have to follow come under the Charities Act, Incorporated Societies Act, Employment Relations Act and Health & Safety Act. Some of the clauses in our Constitution are there because it is our legal responsibility under one of these Acts, to have them in there. In these cases the membership cannot change these parts of the Constitution. It’s your Board’s responsibility to ensure that nothing is changed in the Constitution that would make it unlawful. That’s why we ask the members to send in their remits three months in advance of the AGM, so that we can check that they will fit in with the legal compliance of the organisation as a whole.

How we work the law into our rules

The Constitution is our founding rules, formed by our members and establishing the role of our governance team – the Directors and Chair – who oversee the UFBA’s strategy and actions.  We also have other guiding documents that are used which are more detailed regulations and policies that help the officers and management run the day to day business of the association’s operations in a lawful way and are meeting their obligations to the membership.  Examples of regulations are how we issue and distribute Service Honours on behalf of our members. But there are also regulations and policies around how funding is used, and how we treat staff or how we propose to meet our legal obligations, such as health and safety.

Regulations are lower level rules that are informed by the Constitution. They are important and cannot be changed without consultation with the membership. However the membership doesn’t vote on them. The Board member or the association member that wants to make a change to a regulation, makes a submission to the Board. It is then sent out to the membership via the newsletter or formal letter of notification.  The Board seeks feedback from the membership and if they receive no objection to the changes, then they may be passed and changes made at the next Board meeting.

Policies are incredibly important too, but these are managed, designed and changed by the Board. This is so that they can ensure that they are following current laws about how they run the business of the association.  These can be around things like how we use IT in the office, or how we treat one another. For example, you would expect to have a policy on dealing with bullying and harassment.

It is the Board’s job to “govern” these policies, constitution and regulations. Govern means that they are overseeing that the rules and guidelines are not going to put the organisation in a risky situation.  The types of risk they are looking for are around legislation:

In a nutshell

As you are no doubt aware we’re in the middle of a period of great change – however change can be a complicated affair since often people across the sector will have polarised views on how things should be done. This is where our Constitution, Rules and Regulations ensure we’re all singing from the same song sheet and all parts of the association are working in the correct way as agreed on by the majority.

In a nutshell, if you get confused over the different terminology here’s a clear recap for you:

There’s nothing wrong with admitting to not understanding the different terms used. It’s also important that at these times we speak in plain English to make sure everyone can access and understand what is going on and why. After all we’re here for every member.

How our input shapes the sector

The interesting thing is that Fire and Emergency NZ have all these rules, regulations and policies too.  At the moment they are working out how best to form these to meet their new “legislative obligations” under the new FENZ Act, and still make sure that they are meeting the requirements under a bunch of other Acts as well. 

Because they are a Crown Entity, rather than a Not for Profit association, they often have different names for them, and obviously they don’t have members to answer to.  Fire and Emergency NZ’s Constitution is essentially the Act. And their Regulations are written by the Department of Internal Affairs.  Their policies are written by the Board and Management. 

Instead of having members vote on any changes, the government and FENZ board consult with the people that the changes will affect, mainly their workforce and the communities of NZ.  So they have slightly different ways of changing and implementing their rules etc.  But they still consult with those that the changes will impact. As we have seen recently they have done a wide consultation on their Operating Model, from which they will develop policies and they have been doing a lot of this over the last three years.  They have asked for submissions into proposed changes of law and the regulations, and they have asked for input into how they form their policies.

As the members’ representatives, we are often asked to be part of this consultation process.  Through the various Consultations with FENZ over the past few years we’ve made submissions and been part of a wide range of consultation groups. Submissions are our suggestions or recommendations for how we’d like things to change or stay the same.

We’ll be doing more of this in the months to come as we work with FENZ to formalise its shape as it grows as an organisation. So that we ensure that these submissions are representative of our membership, we test our submissions through consultation groups, Provincial networks, and surveying our wider membership.

As a small team, the UFBA staff often can’t do all this work, so we have a database of people from our membership that help us with this. Sometimes it’s a small group, or an individual with speciality skills.  Or if we feel we need to reach all our members we ask their opinions through newsletters and surveys.

This year we started our Think Tank to bring together representatives from the membership. These members not only are operational firefighters from a variety of backgrounds and brigade types but have experience in policy making and help shape submissions further shaped by your feedback. If Policy making is something you’d like to be a part of and feel you have experience in we’d love to hear from you - drop us a message via our contact us form on our website. Otherwise always be sure to get involved with submissions to help shape change and have your say on what is important to you.

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