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Employment and Emergency leave in the ACT PS?

Anon35 23 October 2013 26

I have to be careful what I say here but I am very frustrated right now and want to know if any other RA readers have had a similar experience.

I’m currently an ACTPS employee as well as a volunteer with the Emergency Services Agency, I won’t say which area.  As everyone is aware NSW is experiencing some of the worst fires in recent history.  ACT will probably end up sending more volunteers to the affected areas as numbers on the ground are the biggest asset in these situations.

Employers are not obligated to release staff for emergency duties but most employers are sympathetic and will release staff.  Most Public Service agencies have emergency leave written into their agreements, the ACTPS certainly does.  The ACTPS agreement allows an employee released for duties to take that as Emergency leave so they still get paid & it doesn’t come off annual or personal leave.  NICE

However there is no incentive for an employer to release someone.  Take my manager for example, he is grumpy old pr$%k who won’t release staff for any reason.  I have given up asking to be release for emergency leave, as my manager immediately says no every time.  He always states it is ‘Due to operational demands of the area’ which is cr@p as even when we are not busy and there are plenty of people who can cover my workload he will say the same thing.  There is no incentive to release me so why should he?  I have quietly overheard him talking to another manager where he stated there are always plenty of other volunteers to do the job so why should he have to release me.  He also stated the he would be reluctant to employ any other ESA Volunteers for that reason.

I am seriously thinking of standing down as a volunteer as it’s frustrating putting in the time and effort for training but not been able to provide the support.  My position would probably be better off been taken up by someone who can provide the support.

Has any other RA readers had similar issue with their employer? I would also like to hear how other employers support volunteers? Is private industry better than public? As an employer would someone being a volunteer influence your decision to hire them

Also what more could be done to encourage employers to release volunteers for duty? I understand for small business it can be costly to release staff but for big business & public service it shouldn’t be so difficult.

 Thoughts?


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26 Responses to
Employment and Emergency leave in the ACT PS?
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JC 9:49 am 24 Oct 13

Lazy I said :

If you’re genuinely passionate about it and want to contribute, take recreation leave or LWOP.

Still has to be approved.

JC 9:46 am 24 Oct 13

dks00k said :

It used to be the case in NSW, and probably still is, that NSW Public Servants were entitled to (a reasonable number) of days emergency services leave per year for such duties. However once a Section 44 was declared, that leave become more or less unlimited and the wrath of the government would fall upon any employer who unreasonably refused such leave.

I’m not sure of the entitlements here in the ACT, but I’m sure your request would be further complicated by the fact that you are an ACTPS and the declared emergency is Interstate…

Going by that response it is obvious you didn’t read the OP’s full post. The issue is he is entitled to the leave, but only with manager approval. The managers approval bit is the sticking point.

OP your only option would be to talk to his boss or even the manager of HR. His attitude certainly needs readjusting. Of course doing so is a risk, so document everything you do and keep a copy.

Anon35 9:30 am 24 Oct 13

First off I am not prepeared to take it higher as I don’t think this will make a difference. First off it will be very easy for the managers to cover their arse and justify the operation requirments, so & so is on leave or sick, the area is bust right now etc. Even if it does result in the manager being obliged to release me, it will not endear me to him and could make the workplace more dfficult, it certainly won’t help carer advancemt within the area.

Eyeofthetiger said :

if I leave it usually either comes out of annual leave or LWOP, which I’m usually happy to do anyway.

Lazy I said :

If you’re genuinely passionate about it and want to contribute, take recreation leave or LWOP.

Best of luck

I’d be more than happy to take it as LWOP or Rec leave however these still need to be approved by the manager. Also deployments usually come at short notice so there would be as much chance of getting that as released for emergency leave. The type of leave is not the issue, it’s simply being out of the workplace that my boss desn’t like.

IrishPete 9:30 am 24 Oct 13

Unless the boss lives in a rural area, his house on fire will be responded to by Fire and Rescue, highly paid highly trained professionals who sit around waiting for emergencies to happen.

I’m not sure that blacklisting him on the secret RFS database (well, it used to be secret until you lot let the cat out of the bag) will be much help if he doesn’t live in a rural area.

Other properties on the secret database include our own over-insured houses which we pray will burn down while we are away protecting yours.

Of course if more of you were members of the RFS and SES, then the load on individual employers would be much much less.

I think I may have got out of the wrong side of the bed today. But I would love to be paid for my “volunteering” and especially for training, as it would mean my Brigade would turn up to training and would be much better trained and much more effective. We shouldn’t be re-learning how to start the pumps every time we have a fire to attend.

But great advice from the HR person – I was not aware of the FairWork provisions. Don’t tell Abbott.

IP

godot64 9:14 pm 23 Oct 13

If you aren’t already doing so, I’d be putting the request for leave in writing each time (through the leave system) perhaps also copied to the appropriate leave person in HR, which will require the subsequent refusal to be recorded also. Grumpy old bastards (particularly the ‘what’s in it for me’ type) don’t necessarily want to be outed as such, and you are entitled to have a record of your leave requests and refusals. Also, if refused, make sure you are asking (still politely, still in writing) what the ‘operational requirements’ are that are so demanding that you can’t be released. It’s important that you understand what they are, obviously, so your manager needs to explain his reasoning. Don’t accept a verbal response. ‘Operational requirements’ is a description, but not a reason in itself and shouldn’t be accepted as such.

Perhaps firstly, though, arrange a time to discuss the issue, having first checked with HR to be sure you thoroughly understand the policy. Then, forearmed, tell him that you have noticed he never approves your requests for emergency service leave and ask directly whether there are ANY circumstances under which he would approve one of your requests. Ask what his view is of ESA Volunteers – does he see any value in your volunteering, or is it just a bloody nuisance as far as he is concerned? Take notes. Take a friend. Take a union delegate (whether you are in a union or not). Whatever seems best.

If none of the above works, ask him for his address; when he asks why, tell him that, since he clearly won’t support emergency services, you’ll see to it that they won’t ever support him if he needs help!

Okay, maybe not that last one. Maybe…

rescuedg 8:32 pm 23 Oct 13

Alright Anon35 hopefully I can give you the full brief. I am a volunteer with the RFS and I work for the ACTPS in Human Resources.

You and anybody else covered by the Fair Work Act have a right to be absent from the workplace to respond to emergencies as a volunteer for an emergency management agency during an emergency see here.

As an ACTPS employee you also have a right to up to four days pay per emergency. Importantly for you it is possible to apply for the leave AFTER you have begun taking it, so long as you would be able to demonstrate you were not reasonably able to pre-notify and your position was not critical to the operation of a function of the ACTPS.

If your boss is telling you that there are ‘operational reasons’ that you cannot be released he/she is required to detail what those reasons are, and they do have to be reasonable. Try and take a step back to see if they are but speaking bluntly most people in the ACTPS who are not in essential front line roles should be able to take time off to volunteer.

As others have said, it is always the best strategy to go back to your manager first. If nothing then there are a number of options for you, escalate one step up, speak to HR or speak to the ESA. I know the ESA and the Agencies within would all be willing to speak up on your behalf.

taninaus 8:23 pm 23 Oct 13

As others have said, your boss sounds like he is being a bit unreasonable. there are others in ACT Gov that access this leave without issue. but it depends on what sort of role you are in as to whether it is truly a problem or merely and inconvenience he isn’t willing to work around.

Are you in the union (CPSU I expect)? if you are not this is exactly why they exist, to argue for your rights. they can give you advice and help you represent your views, either gear you up for the discussion or worst case come with you to a meeting and assist you with the process. If you aren’t, it might be worth the cost.

You would also be in your rights to ask him to provide you for his reasons in writing what the operational reasons are for not providing you with access to leave that is detailed in the Agreement. The Agreement also says somewhere that managers should not be unreasonable in claiming operational reasons. but if you have given up asking you haven’t got a record of him saying no either.

Are you friendly with the boss 1 up from him or the HR team at work? is there someone you can get advice from and who may be able to help you discuss this with your boss.

also given the way he has dealt with it in the past, I suggest you make sure you put your requests in through the HR system or on a hard copy form or email, you have evidence then of asking and being declined. you are just following process.

good luck with it, putting yourself on the front line is a good thing for all of us.

IrishPete 8:21 pm 23 Oct 13

It does sound like your manager is a bit of a dick.

But I have been in his position (while also a NSW RFS member) and 4 days per emergency can easily become almost unlimited at busy times of year. One of my staff was a member of three brigades. When you are away from work, either someone is doing your work for you, or else your position is unnecessary.

My own job was life-and-death, and I managed my RFS commitments – I worked 36 hours a week, but there are 168 hours in a week, so even if I couldn’t take time off work, I could still respond to fires during my own time. Often I would get Emergency Services Leave retrospectively, but that would only be a day, or half a day, or I would make it up through flex time.

Task Forces are a different matter – some people can go on them and some people can’t. I would have to put my dogs in kennels, so it would cost me money and isn’t always possible at short notice.

What you are probably really arguing for is paid firefighting positions, much like Retained professional firefighters. I would be up for that like a flash, but live too far from a Fire and Rescue station be able to be Retained, though I can live where I like if I want to be full-time (go figure).

Incidentally, I think either the ACT or NSW public service awards (can’t remember which, because I worked for both but don’t work for either now) contain paid leave to attend emergency services training, but I’ve never heard of anyone using it.

IP

Lazy I 7:22 pm 23 Oct 13

If you’re genuinely passionate about it and want to contribute, take recreation leave or LWOP.

PantsMan 7:18 pm 23 Oct 13

Dude, you work in the ACTPS. Just like in the Soviet system they idealise, despite it purporting to be a workers paradise, you basically get screwed on a daily basis.

The typical ACTPS should EXPECT to get bullied, denied promotions, asked to break the law, have all (not just this one) their purported workplace rights violated and screamed at on a daily basis, and then just cop a Code of Conduct complaint for complaining.

Ronald_Coase 6:31 pm 23 Oct 13

If you haven’t done so already, join the CPSU and contact member services for advice. Your supervisor is probably violating the letter if not the spirit of the EA and you either need to move sections or fight back against this unreasonable tight arse.

Eyeofthetiger 6:20 pm 23 Oct 13

I know exactly how you feel.
I am also a volunteer in the ACTESA. Quite a few people in my unit are PS employees and are often released from work should there be a callout. However I have noticed that this is alot to do with their position/level in the PS, although still seems that often they are released.
I work for a private company, employing about 40 staff at my branch and whether I am released or not is entirely dependant on our workload. I also find that the severity of the incident in which I am going to depends on how easy it is for me to be released (if that makes sense)…
From my experience it seems that PS employees are able to be released easier and more often than privately employed volunteers, especially given there is the clause written in there for emergency/community leave, where as I do not have that, if I leave it usually either comes out of annual leave or LWOP, which I’m usually happy to do anyway.
It seems to me you have a bit of an xyz of a boss, I’d be looking at taking it higher, explain that the ‘plenty of other volunteers’ theory is far from the truth, we often struggle to field a crew due to attitudes like this. Pitch it to him with the ‘how would you feel if your house was burning and no one came because they couldn’t field a crew’.
Best of luck

Genie 5:05 pm 23 Oct 13

Sounds like you have an extremely unreasonable boss.

I have friends who volunteer for the RFS and always get their time off when unfortunate situations like this occur.

Take it over their head, approach your Band 1 or go straight to HR.

If you’re prepared to, you can even take it further and make a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman if you feel you’re not getting a fair go.

“Subject to operational requirements” can be interpreted 100 different ways. If you are the only person who can do your job, then yeah, I guess it would be hard to give you the time off. But if you feel that there are other people in the office who can easily manage your workload, definitely take it above their head as they are being unreasonable.

Tecko12 4:31 pm 23 Oct 13

I am also from an ESA ACT service, i have had a discussion with my employer, and they are more than happy to allow me to go on deployments. As well as alot of other members i know of. I think its just your boss. 🙁

Anon35 1:42 pm 23 Oct 13

The agreement is fairly standard

Entitlement
Eligible employees are entitled to be absent on unpaid leave to engage in a voluntary emergency management activities, subject to operational requirements in the workplace.
Eligible employees, other than casual employees, are eligible for up to four days paid community service leave for voluntary emergency management per emergency.
Community service leave for voluntary emergency management is non-cumulative.

So it’s 4 days paid leave per emergency event, But the key wording here is “subject to operational requirements in the workplace” Which is exactly what my manger states when asked, even though it could be eaisly managed if I was away. I don’t know how my employer manages to cope when i’m sick or on annual leave. The place must go into meltdown without me.

Anon35 1:20 pm 23 Oct 13

Ghettosmurf87 said :

I wouldn’t tar the whole PS (both ACT & FED) just because one particular supervisor is a tight-a$$ who can’t be bothered juggling a few responsibilities while one of their staff goes out and helps save lives/communities/etc.

Agreed, I know many volunteers who are both ACT & Fed PS and have supportive employers. I didn’t mean to insuate that it was endemic.

Ghettosmurf87 said :

Looks like you just got unlucky and are saddled with a prick 🙁

You said it not me 🙂

Anon35 1:12 pm 23 Oct 13

dks00k said :

It used to be the case in NSW, and probably still is, that NSW Public Servants were entitled to (a reasonable number) of days emergency services leave per year for such duties. However once a Section 44 was declared, that leave become more or less unlimited and the wrath of the government would fall upon any employer who unreasonably refused such leave.

I’m not sure of the entitlements here in the ACT, but I’m sure your request would be further complicated by the fact that you are an ACTPS and the declared emergency is Interstate…

I think the entitlement is still for unlimited leave, if not a more than generous amount, the issue is still that the individual manager is not under any obligation to release you, so why would they. When their major bureaucratic roles is to justify their staffing levels via statistics, it doesn’t offer any encouragement for them to release you.

It shouldn’t matter that the emergency is interstate. Has 2003 been so long forgotten? Without interstate assistance things would have been worse. Also my employer won’t release me for state emergencies so the fact it’s interstate is irrelevant in this case.

For some of the reasons mentioned by others I don’t want to go above the managers head. In my experience I also don’t think it will have positive result.

The only solution I can see is to change job.

steveu 12:56 pm 23 Oct 13

Anon35 said :

steveu said :

I would be careful putting anything online about your employer, particularly if you are a public servant…

Hence my initial stament and the fact I posted this anonymously and didn’t mention the directorate I work for 🙂

I would like to see something similar to the Army Reserve where you get one week are year where your employer is obliged to release you for duties.

Unfortunately the Army Reserve is Federal Gov where as Emergency Services are State run so it would be up to the individual States to implement something.

My previous employer was with a large private company who were more than helpful with my volunteer work and would actively encourage me to do things like interstate task forces. They said they would even release me for non-operational duties such as interstate training activities (although I never put this into practise).

It’s frustrating to see that private employers have more civic responsibility than the PS. I don’t want to give up being a volunteer as it’s very rewarding and I gain a lot personally from it, however if my training is not being put to use I feel I’m taking up an operational role that could be better utilised by someone more able. Not to mention the time and physical effort in my training

Canberra is a small town, and I think that people who work around you probably know who you are and have read this. Just saying…

Im pretty sure there wouldnt be much stopping the Federal govt legislating to support this. And the constitution is something that gets raised only when we choose to ignore it….

If the PM can take some time off to fight the fires, you would expect public servants shouldn’t have to argue the case to do their bit, whether it be state/local council or federal.

Ghettosmurf87 12:55 pm 23 Oct 13

Anon35 said :

steveu said :

I would be careful putting anything online about your employer, particularly if you are a public servant…

Hence my initial stament and the fact I posted this anonymously and didn’t mention the directorate I work for 🙂

I would like to see something similar to the Army Reserve where you get one week are year where your employer is obliged to release you for duties.

Unfortunately the Army Reserve is Federal Gov where as Emergency Services are State run so it would be up to the individual States to implement something.

My previous employer was with a large private company who were more than helpful with my volunteer work and would actively encourage me to do things like interstate task forces. They said they would even release me for non-operational duties such as interstate training activities (although I never put this into practise).

It’s frustrating to see that private employers have more civic responsibility than the PS. I don’t want to give up being a volunteer as it’s very rewarding and I gain a lot personally from it, however if my training is not being put to use I feel I’m taking up an operational role that could be better utilised by someone more able. Not to mention the time and physical effort in my training

I wouldn’t tar the whole PS (both ACT & FED) just because one particular supervisor is a tight-a$$ who can’t be bothered juggling a few responsibilities while one of their staff goes out and helps save lives/communities/etc.

I certainly know the Directors and Branch Head in my area of the PS wouldn’t hesitate to release staff for such volunteer work.

Looks like you just got unlucky and are saddled with a prick 🙁

Thumper 12:52 pm 23 Oct 13

Also, check your workplace agreement. There is probably something in there does let you attend emergencies.

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