Court orders ACT government to hand over firefighters' pay records

The ACT government has been ordered to cough up the pay records of United Firefighters Union members, as the union looks for evidence of what it believes to be underpayments to ACT firefighters totalling more than $1 million.

Justice Bernard Murphy made the order in the Federal Court of Australia on Tuesday afternoon.

ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown, who along with the ACT government has been ordered to hand over United Firefighters Union members' pay records to the union. Photo: Rohan Thomson

ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown, who along with the ACT government has been ordered to hand over United Firefighters Union members' pay records to the union. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The order gives ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown and the territory government two days to hand over material including the platoon annual roster for the year ending March 8, and the ACT Fire and Rescue overtime roster from the start of 2017-18 to the present.

Within 14 days of Tuesday's order, they must also give the union copies of the pay records of its ACT members who worked overtime in the year ending March 8. The records must not be redacted.

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville said the union had been forced to take the matter to court after it "met with resistance" in trying to obtain the documents from ACT Fire and Rescue.

"We think this is potentially over $1 million in underpayments to firefighters," he said.

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville, who says the union suspects underpayments to firefighters totalling more than $1 million. Photo: Karleen Minney

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville, who says the union suspects underpayments to firefighters totalling more than $1 million. Photo: Karleen Minney

"It could potentially affect all firefighters who have worked overtime."

Mr McConville said if the union uncovered what it suspected in the pay records, it could then apply for the same documents dating back a further five years.

He said the speculative figure of more than $1 million was "just a baseline assessment" for the past six years, and the documents would tell the full story.

The union secretary said the issue surrounded overtime payments to firefighters who had worked consecutive shifts without taking the requisite eight-hour break in between.

"The reason this happens is that ACT Fire and Rescue doesn't have enough firefighters to have a roster that is safe," Mr McConville said.

"There aren't enough firefighters to cover those that are injured, sick, on leave, or off in training.

"We've identified circumstances where firefighters have worked 34 hours in a 38-hour period."

Mr Brown said the Emergency Services Agency, which oversees ACT Fire and Rescue, was pleased to learn that the Federal Court had ruled on the matter on Tuesday.

"The decision allows the government to release the information on personal payroll data that would have been otherwise in conflict government legislation on payroll data," Mr Brown said in a statement.

"The ACT government doesn’t automatically release personal payroll data and information on overtime to third parties.

"We protect our employees' rights to privacy and manage employees' personal data in accordance with legislation and government policy."

The Federal Court ruling comes as the United Firefighters Union's more than 330 Canberra members prepare to start industrial action against ACT Fire and Rescue on Monday, as part of a dispute over key employment conditions.

The territory's urban firefighters rejected a 10 per cent pay rise in December last year, instead calling on ACT Fire and Rescue to invest that money in the fire service.