Blazing row over bushfires

This “Exclusive” newspaper article by Linda Silmalis was published in the Sunday Telegraph on 28th Feb 2016.

NPWS Salary decrease 0001

Text from the newspaper article:

NATIONAL parks rangers are heading for a showdown with the state government over proposed budget cuts they claim will seriously hamper firefighting work.

As firefighting agencies brace for continuing fire threats across the State, ran­gers returning from firefighting duties in Western Australia and Tasmania have learned their pay is set to be slashed for future operations.

The Public Service Associ­ation of NSW said the State Government Wants to cut the number of rangers working on weekends while also removing special loading for after-hours work. The union claims the move will seriously affect the availability of rangers on weekends to undertake duties such as firefighting.

Other duties performed on weekends include law enforce­ment, checking on camp grounds and search and rescue operations. Union figures show there are 212 National Parks and Wildlife Service ran­gers managing the national park estate and more than 30 million visitors, with a further 50 positions unfilled. PSA general secretary Anne Gardiner said rangers were told of the plan on returning from fighting fires interstate, duties they claim they will no longer be able to perform should the cuts go ahead.

“It’s deplorable that while our rangers are working hard in other states to protect communities from major bushfires the State Government is plot­ting to cut the vital service they provide here in NSW,” Ms Gardiner said.

“National Parks are a major weekend and holiday desti­nation for thousands of famil­ies and they rely on the experienced efforts of rangers to maintain a safe leisure environment. More than 100 rangers have been deployed this fire season to help inter­state colleagues battle blazes.”

The union claims the gov­ernment is planning to scrap a loading of 17 per cent applied to weekends while reducing overall ranger numbers.

A senior park ranger said staff were angered by the cost cuts given they were being implemented at the same time as millions of dollars were being injected into new sport­ing grounds.

“The government is pump­ing millions into new sporting grounds,” the ranger said. “There’s no bigger or better ground than our national parks, where millions of people enjoy getting outdoors and active.”

A spokesperson. for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage said formal talks would occur with unions over their conditions this week.

This is a complex issue

The newspaper article raises a number of complex issues including:

  1. Do we have sufficient number of rangers for day to day operations and proper land management of our national parks?
  2. If park rangers deserve an increased rate of pay, should it be built into their base pay rate? They should not have to rely on firefighting operations to supplement their income.
  3. Is it appropriate to pay firefighters an excessive rate of pay over and above their normal rate during firefighting operations?
  4. Remembering that volunteer firefighters (particularly those who are self employed) can often find themselves fighting fires at personal cost. Is it appropriate to pay other firefighters who are working alongside them an excessive rate of pay?

These issues could be mitigated if proper land management practices and increased burning regimes were adopted.

Spend more money on mitigation and less on mayhem…

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