NZPFU collective bargaining and industrial action

NZPFU collective bargaining

The New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU) is one of three unions representing employed personnel at Fire and Emergency. The NZPFU covers members employed as firefighters, officers, National Communications Centre staff, and other operational roles such as training, volunteer support, risk reduction and community readiness and recovery. 

Collective agreements are re-negotiated periodically, at least every three years. Fire and Emergency are currently negotiating with the NZPFU.

On this page:

Updates on collective bargaining with the NZPFU(external link)

Your questions answered - facts and our position(external link)

Updates on collective bargaining with the NZPFU

You can find our latest media statements below. Previous statements can be viewed here.

In September, Fire and Emergency and the NZPFU participated in a facilitated mediation process. You can view the recommendations of the facilitator/mediator here [PDF, 1.9 MB].

Your questions answered - facts and our position

We know there’s a lot of interest in efforts to reach a new collective agreement with the NZPFU. To help answer any questions you may have we’re sharing some facts, and our position on some key issues.

  • The bargaining process
  • Firefighter hours and staffing
  • Pay
  • Tools, facilities and equipment
  • Health, safety and wellbeing
  • Public safety

In July we also provided an open letter responding to the NZPFU’s claims [PDF, 387 KB], though we’ve summarised and updated key information on this page.

The bargaining process

Why hasn’t Fire and Emergency reached an agreement with the Professional Firefighters’ Union?

This has been a long and protracted negotiation to agree a new collective agreement. The union originally made over 100 claims which were complex and far in excess of the mandate Fire and Emergency had to settle. Notwithstanding the complexity of this negotiation, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the Professional Firefighters Union share a commitment to the professional firefighters of Aotearoa, and the communities we serve.

What’s the status of collective bargaining between Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the Professional Firefighter’ Union?

Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union have signed terms of settlement for a new collective agreement between the parties. A draft collective agreement will now be presented by the NZPFU to its members for ratification. This process is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

Firefighter hours and staffing

Why are we hearing Fire and Emergency are not employing enough firefighters?

Like many organisations, Fire and Emergency has been impacted by absences due to COVID-19. We agree there is an immediate need for more career firefighters and are working to increase staffing levels. 

We have four recruit courses coming up. These will add 100 new firefighters over the next 12 months.  

We have also promised to discuss rostering and ratios of staffing with the union. 

Why are firefighters working overtime?

Working overtime is common for nearly all firefighters. It is usually a full extra shift on top of their rostered shifts of two-day shifts (generally 0800 – 1800), two night shifts (generally 1800 – 0800).   

Doing a manageable amount of overtime currently takes a firefighter’s pay up to about $97 thousand per year and a senior station officer’s to around $130,000 per year.  

To fully staff all trucks at all times we do require a level of overtime to be worked to cover staffing unavailability. This can be accommodated under the current rostering pattern and base hours of work.  This arrangement has been in place for decades and it has worked well. This practice is common internationally across other fire and emergency services. 

But we recognise that recently for a variety of reasons including the impact of COVID, overtime levels required for full staffing have increased beyond levels that firefighters are willing or able to work. 

We are trying to address this – for example we have additional recruit courses underway or planned. In the meantime, we’re arranging cover from neighbouring stations when there’s short crewing at a station.  It’s part of our standard processes for when there are multiple incidents occurring at the same time. 

It’s a matter of balance here. Giving our firefighters overtime they can comfortably carry out but not overworking them. We agree the impacts of COVID-19 have challenged that balance.   

We do recognise that limits on hours of work are necessary, and these are covered in our fatigue management policy. We acknowledge the nature of shift work is such that over time it does place demands on staff that others not working rotating shifts do not experience. That’s why our fatigue management policy requires a 14 day period of rostered leave within every 160 days. 

It’s also important to remember firefighters on average spend only 6% of their rostered time attending incidents, with the balance of the time on other duties or standing by on station (particularly overnight if needed) so we are ready and able to respond quickly to keep our communities safe. 

I’ve heard stations are being closed due to staffing. Is that true?

We don’t close stations due to staffing and any information that suggests otherwise is misleading. As an emergency agency we always plan for reduced staffing – whether that’s caused by sickness or multiple emergencies happening at the same time. It’s common to reposition trucks and resources to cover for big emergencies, or multiple incidents. It’s part of our operating model.

Pay

What was Fire and Emergency’s most recent offer?

On 4 August 2022, Fire and Emergency made a revised offer to the NZPFU [PDF, 1014 KB]. The offer would have seen all firefighters’ base salaries increase by between 8 and 19 per cent over the next two years. Firefighters’ pay progression increases within their pay grades would have continued as normal, in addition to the pay increases included in the new pay offer.  

The offer also included:  

  • A proposed one off lump sum payment in lieu of the 2021 annual remuneration review for the period 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 of $2,000 (gross) per person for all PFU members covered by this agreement as at the date of ratification.
  • Revised health and wellbeing proposals in relation to health/blood screening and pro-active psychological support/supervision. 
  • Proposal to schedule Terms of Settlement to the new collective agreement so as to make their terms contractual and therefore enforceable during the term of the new collective agreement. 
  • Proposed new commitments regarding recruitment during the current financial year and reconvening the Establishment Committee to review firefighter numbers.
Why aren’t you paying recruits and graduates enough?

We agree that the salary of a trainee and recently graduated firefighter is not where it needs to be, and that any pay increase should be weighted to attract, retain and reward new firefighters. Our most recent offer reflected this as it offered trainees and recent recruits the highest increases of up to 19 per cent over two years as well as a $2000 lump sum. At the same time, these are trainee roles, with intensive training and development upon commencement, but no prerequisite qualifications prior to entry.

Why are we hearing firefighters get paid less and are undervalued compared to admin and office staff?

The reality is that to ensure we attract the right people support roles need to be paid according to the market in Wellington, where our headquarters are located. 

However, an operational job at Fire and Emergency is paid on a higher pay scale than an administrative job of the same job size. Operational jobs also get paid additional allowances. These allowances are not available to administrative jobs.  Operational firefighters also have access to higher contributions by Fire and Emergency to their Fire Superannuation than is available to staff participating in KiwiSaver. 

It’s important to reinforce we value all our people, whether they are frontline or supporting our communities in a different way. We are one team, and everyone plays a crucial role in keeping Aotearoa safe. 

Tools, facilities and equipment

What is Fire and Emergency doing to ensure its vehicles are fit for purpose?

Fire and Emergency manages and maintains a very large and complex fleet. Our fleet has more than 1280 fire trucks and specialist response vehicles. These are big, expensive and specialised vehicles. We maintain them to a high standard, and they are very reliable. But as anyone would expect with a fleet of this size, sometimes there are issues. When that happens, we provide a relief truck, fix the issue and get the truck back on the run. 

 We are also investing in the future of our fleet. We have purchased 146 new fire trucks in the past three financial years and are progressing procurement for new heavy aerial appliances and Type 3 appliances (the fire trucks predominantly used by career firefighters). These projects are well underway, and we have had extensive, constructive and positive engagement by frontline operational firefighters and union representatives. The NZPFU has had representation at three levels of these projects (reference/working groups, project team and steering group) and members have been engaged and contributing positively. 

We want their involvement to continue, and their experience and knowledge will be highly valuable as these projects progress. 

How do you ensure firefighters have the right equipment to do their job?

It is important firefighters have the right equipment needed to do their job. We provide them that. This includes fire stations, fire trucks, hose, breathing apparatus, rescue equipment, personal protective equipment, radios, and more.  

We have teams who manage fleet, equipment and property. They ensure maintenance is taking place and any issues that come up are resolved. They also look at opportunities for improvement. 

It is just over two years since we received a funding boost from the Government of over $50 million for rebuilds and upgrades for 26 fire stations. 

The additional funding was specifically allocated from the Government’s COVID Response Recovery Fund (CRRF), the final project, Kaikoura, is due to be completed early next year. 

Since receiving the funding we have upgraded or rebuilt 24 fire stations: Napier, Christchurch Central, Greymouth, Athol, Paeroa, Pōkeno, Kawakawa Bay, Titahi Bay, Seaview, Appleby, Featherston, Cavalli, Okaihau, Waipawa, Greytown, Balclutha, Peel Forest, Makarora, Taihape, Waihi, Huntly, Stokes Valley, Sumner, and Rangitata Gorge. 

Health, safety and wellbeing

What is Fire and Emergency’s position on occupational cancer?

We agree firefighters have an increased risk to some occupational cancers.  

We support presumptive legislation in principle if Government were to move that way, which would make it law that firefighters who suffer certain cancers qualify to have this covered by ACC as an occupational illness. But that is up to Parliament. 

We have robust systems, processes and supports for our firefighters who are seeking ACC cover for occupational illness or injury, which we are always trying to improve, in consultation with the Union. We have a toxicology panel in place specifically to assess firefighter’s claims for ACC cover for cancer. We support firefighters making claims to the toxicology ACC panel. 

What do you do to look after firefighter health and safety?

The health and safety of our firefighters is paramount.

We provide our firefighters with full PPE suitable for the environments they work in.  They follow strict protocols and procedures in potentially toxic environments.

We have robust processes at incident grounds to ensure they are kept safe.

We have undertaken significant work over recent years – working with our unions and associations - to address, eliminate or minimise exposures to hazards and will continue to do so.

We know it is psychologically demanding job and offer a considerable amount of psychological support.

What psychological support is provided to firefighters?

We recognise that responding to emergencies can be psychologically demanding. That’s why we provide a considerable amount of counselling and support to our people and their whanau. Is all free, no questions asked. 

The support available includes, free counselling, clinical psychological support, peer support, dedicated safety health and wellbeing advisors and welfare officers, a health monitoring programme, chaplaincy, and Tikanga Māori-based services. Counselling is also available to the immediate family members of our firefighters for any reason that they may need it. 

We’ve offered in bargaining to continue to work with the Union to improve and develop our support and education in this area. 

I’ve heard firefighters don’t get medical, life and income protection insurance when admin staff do? Is that true?

No one gets health or medical insurance through working, or volunteering, with Fire and Emergency.   

 All firefighters are eligible to participate in the enhanced Fire Superannuation Scheme. Employees can contribute up to six percent of their salary with their contributions matched by Fire and Emergency at $1.52 for every dollar put in by the employee. 

As part of the enhanced Fire Super scheme, firefighters have a guaranteed medical retirement payout of no less than two years pay.  

Non-operational staff who do not have access to Fire Super, or the medical retirement guarantee, do have life insurance and income protection cover - but not health insurance.  Like the medical retirement top up for operational staff covered by Fire Super, life insurance for non- operational staff is two years pay, with the income protection applicable after six months. The cover discontinues when they leave Fire and Emergency unless they choose to continue at their own cost.  

In addition, all our people, including volunteers have cover for personal injury, including death, occurring on the job or on the way to and from work. 

Does Fire and Emergency value it’s firefighters?

Absolutely – our people are our biggest asset. It’s important that all our people – volunteers, professional firefighters, and support staff feel valued and appropriately rewarded for their work and are treated with respect.

Public safety

Should the public be concerned about this dispute?

No, Fire and Emergency and our people remain as committed as ever to serving the communities of Aotearoa. Reaching a fair and appropriate settlement with the NZPFU is a priority and you can be assured we have plans in place to manage actions – such as strikes – in the meantime.

Is Fire and Emergency fit for purpose?

Yes, it is. Fire and Emergency New Zealand was set up in 2017 by the Government to bring together more than 40 separate organisations including the Fire Service which employed career firefighters. We have created a unified organisation from a diverse group of brigades, professional firefighters, and support staff. It’s being run differently to its legacy organisations – it has to be. We have a wider remit and the work of a contemporary emergency management organisation is changing, as the environment we operate in also changes.  

But the purpose is still the same - to keep New Zealanders safe.  We believe that to move forward now in unity, in trust and confidence, is in everyone’s interest not least the public’s.