Five hundred United Professional Firefighters Union Western Australia (UPFUWA) members, in their Level 2 protective clothing, marched up St George Terrace to Parliament House on May 24 chanting: “Fire and rescue, flames and smoke; Your wages policies are a joke.”
The union is taking industrial action for a pay rise and better conditions because the WA Labor government has refused to agree to a single one of its five claims — despite six months of negotiations.
The union is campaigning for: a 5% pay rise; greater employer contributions to their superannuation; a workforce expansion; and a 17.5% annual leave loading and overtime rates of time and a half for the first three hours and double thereafter, in line with other public sector workers.
The Mark McGowan government has only offered a $60-a-week increase (3% a year) and a one-off $3000 cost-of-living payment, which will only be given after the union agrees to the government’s offer.
The union rejected it on May 10, describing it as “insulting”, and resolved to take industrial action for the first time since 2011.
At the steps of parliament, UPFUWA President Clem Chan alongside senior firefighters Cian Evans and station officer Pippa Williams addressed the protest. They reminding everyone of the risks firefighters face at work and their essential roles in the community.
Williams said firefighters are “falling further and further behind in our wages and our conditions”, adding that wages had not changed since 2017 and superannuation was being eroded.
“We have not received increases like the rest of the public service. In this economic climate, which is only going to get more and more challenging, this is not good enough.
“We are just like everyone else; we have bills and mortgages to pay and families to raise.”
Williams said the number of professional firefighters had not risen since 2015. She pointed out that staffing levels are often 10-20 people short at the start of the shift and that firefighters have to work extra shifts to ensure stations are staffed at full capacity. She also described the dangers of their work that can lead to post traumatic stress disorder and cancers.
Industrial relations minister Bill Johnston, who addressed the crowd, claimed that other public sector unions had accepted government offers. Rejecting his divide and rule tactic, the protest turned their back on him.
Chan called on Labor to negotiate, not dictate.
Unions WA secretary Own Whittle and Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Martin Aldridge also addressed the rally.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Maritime Union of Australia, State School Teachers Union, Health Services and Commonwealth Public Sector Union were some of the unions showing support.
Chan vowed that the firefighters would continue to struggle until Labor met their demands.