Emergency services were called to Takanini shortly before midnight after reports of a fire. Video / Shanie Prasad
Strike action is being planned by some of New Zealand’s firefighters, according to their union.
The New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union today announced its members had voted overwhelmingly to reject Fire and Emergency NZ’s offer to settle the collective agreement.
The members reportedly opted to take “all proposed forms of strike action”, according to the union’s website.
A ballot declaration would follow tomorrow.
It comes after the union said there were 23 gaps in firefighter coverage, including five fire trucks out of commission due to no staff and several more short-staffed.
The union’s Auckland local secretary Martin Campbell said there had been a lack of investment over the past 10 to 15 years.
“Now, unfortunately, it’s hitting rock bottom and it’s becoming a crisis point, we’ve had no significant increase in the number of career firefighters in Auckland since the 1980s and early 90s, in fact Auckland is less than half the number of career firefighters per capita than the rest of New Zealand.”
On Saturday in Tāmaki Makaurau, there were 98 firefighters on during the day, 20 per cent fewer than usual, looking after the region’s 1.7 million people, Campbell said.
That created a massive risk in terms of public safety and for the safety of firefighters, he said.
“If stations are unstaffed or closed down because we haven’t got enough firefighters, other stations have to respond from further away. It takes longer for Fire and Emergency to get fire trucks to emergency incidents.”
Fewer staff also meant those firefighters who attended incidents were more likely to have to take more risks to get the job done, he said.
It was also harder to find people wanting to take up the role of a career firefighter, Campbell said, adding the wage that career firefighters started on, particularly in their first four of five years, was barely above the living wage.
Fire and Emergency defended firefighter coverage and said it was currently negotiating with the union over the collective employment agreement.
Fire and Emergency region manager Ron Devlin said he wanted to reassure the community the service had the capacity and planning in place to respond to emergencies.
“We have capacity built into our capability to allow for coverage on any given day should appliances be committed to large fires or when we routinely take trucks off service temporarily for several reasons – including training our people and maintaining our fleet,” he said in a statement.
There are 70 fire stations across Tāmaki Makaurau crewed by volunteer and career firefighters.
Like many organisations, Fire and Emergency had been impacted by staff absences due to Omicron but there were always contingency plans in place to enable the organisation to respond to callouts, Devlin said.
“Our career firefighters work an average 42 hours per week, before overtime, based on two-day shifts followed by two night shifts, and four days off. All firefighters who have completed their initial 12-week training course have the opportunity to earn significantly more than their base salary by undertaking additional or specialist duties and working overtime.”
Fire and Emergency New Zealand recruited for career firefighters twice a year and it received applications from many quality candidates, he said.
“In fact, we are currently running an additional recruitment for Auckland only, which opened on April 1 and will close on May 15, with the objective of filling an additional 15 to 20 roles.”
Additional reporting by RNZ