Police cave to union on nine-day fortnights despite warning community would be at risk

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Victoria Police has agreed with the police union and the state government to avoid more industrial action over Christmas by considering nine-hour shifts over a nine-day fortnight for officers, with the union boss calling the deal a “breakthrough”.

The Police Association Victoria announced last night that a deal had been brokered with force command to suspend its industrial action campaign and defer negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement until next May.

Victoria Police has committed to considering implementing nine-hour shifts over nine-day fortnights for officers.Credit: Paul Rovere

The union said it had “received a commitment from Victoria Police that it is moving towards developing and implementing a nine-hour shift model”, according to a statement released late last night.

Patrol officers are currently expected to turn up to their eight-hour shift about an hour early to complete the handover, kit up and then head out on the road, meaning they are already working nine-hour shifts but not getting paid for the extra hour. A nine-day fortnight would also give officers an extra day off.

Early on Wednesday morning, a Victoria Police spokeswoman initially denied an agreement had been reached to resolve the increasingly bitter dispute over pay and conditions.

But just after 9 am, the force revised its statement and confirmed a deal had been made.

“Victoria Police has this morning signed an agreement to extend the 2019 enterprise bargaining agreement until 31 May 2024.

“During this time we will explore the feasibility of implementing nine-hour shifts for police provided it can be achieved within agreed rostering principles, current resourcing levels and government wages policy,” the police spokeswoman said.

The state’s 17,800 unionised officers were due to vote on Wednesday for a second round of protected industrial action, which could have included bans on issuing fines for some driving offences and refusing to patrol major events such as the Australian Open.

Patrol cars have been plastered with messaging about fair pay and hours over the past few weeks and officers have revealed locations of revenue-raising speed cameras to drivers as part of strike action.

With Melbourne also due to host the ASEAN Summit in March, the state government was determined to defer the increasingly bitter dispute and avoid further controversy over its handling of the matter, according to government and police sources.

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton has previously said the union’s campaign for a 4 per cent pay rise and a nine-day fortnight could jeopardise community safety as the new conditions would stretch the force’s resources.

Patton told members that executive command had decided it was unable to support the proposal, according to an email last month, obtained by The Age.

“The reality is this proposal would seriously undermine our capacity to keep the community safe and further burden our already-stretched resources.

“A move to nine-hour shifts for members working in regional operations – uniform alone, up to the rank of senior sergeant – would require an additional 1885 police officers to cover the vacant shifts created by an additional rest day,” Patton said on November 3.

He estimated an increased cost of $1.548 billion over the next four years, which could exceed $3 billion if the new conditions were applied to all members.

“It’s not something that Victoria Police is able to negotiate on because we cannot sustain this impact on our service delivery and our budget. We simply can’t afford it,” Patton said.

Last night, police union secretary Wayne Gatt said he was pleased Victoria Police had recognised the need for nine-hour shifts for officers.

“This is a change that helps, in part, address the drivers of burnout, unpaid overtime and fatigue that are driving police out of the job.

“More work needs to be done to complete this agreement, but this positive step forward enables negotiations to continue towards that end, while ensuring our members get an immediate cash boost while that work is being completed,” Gatt said in a statement to media.

Under the deal, the state government has also agreed to make a 1.75 per cent goodwill payment to members while negotiations continue.

In a separate message to members last night, Gatt described the deal as a “breakthrough” but cautioned that it did not represent a resolution to EBA negotiations.

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