Onehunga firefighters protest pay and dangerous work conditions2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Senior firefighter, Toby Kerr, drives for nearly an hour each way to get to Onehunga for firefighting shifts, where he works long hours in the career he loves and has been working in for 20 years. However, with three children at home and a wife on maternity leave, he has picked up a second job to make ends meet, and says firefighters are leaving the region, and even the service, because of pay and conditions.
The frustration culminated in a rare stop work notice from the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union on 19th August, where firefighters and supporters lined the streets for an hour from 11am to protest staffing, pay and equipment. Three more stop work notices have been notified, if there is no resolution from the union negotiations with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).
In Onehunga, they gathered on the corner of Onehunga Mall and Mt Smart Road, near the fire station, where cars honked consistently in support as they drove through the intersection. “The significance of stop work action is not taken lightly,” says Toby.
“We care about the communities that we work in and the last thing we want to do is not provide a response to them, but it has got to the point where we’re not going to be able to maintain a safe level of staffing, especially in Auckland, if we can’t attract and sustain firefighters to live and work here.”
It’s not just the pay either, it’s the equipment, with trucks sometimes not working, and staffing levels being insufficient to open a station, which has happened at least ten times this year in Onehunga, he says.
“When I started in 2003 the morale was quite low, but I’d have to say at the moment it’s the lowest that I’ve seen it. It’s just got to that breaking point where we’ve seen a degradation in pay, conditions, and priorities, including a lack of prioritisation for maintaining the urban fleet.
“They are seemingly rolling the dice certainly every weekend with the reliability of trucks we currently have.”
“We are continuing to work with the union to find a resolution. But we can’t afford to address all the claims the union is making which amount to more than $200 million over three years,” says a FENZ spokesperson, who says they’re disappointed it has escalated to strike action with a new pay offer that would see all firefighters’ pay increase by 8-19%.
“During NZPFU strike action all 111 calls will be answered and we will continue to respond to emergencies – although there are likely to be delays due to significantly fewer firefighters and 111 dispatchers.”