Emergency services Staff numbers hit

Napthine Government budget cuts hit 000 call takers – you’ll wait longer for help if emergency call takers are busy. Triple-0 call centres will have fewer operators on hand to receive emergency requests for the police and fire brigade under a new cost cutting trial.

Leaked documents reveal the trial, running from July to September, trims the minimum number of fire brigade call-takers from eight to six during the day, and from seven to five staff at night. Minimum staffing levels of Victoria Police call-takers drop from six to four between 5pm and 1am on weekdays and all times during the weekends, and from four to two staff between 1am and 5am on week nights. An internal email from the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, which runs the triple-0 service, said it was closely monitoring the trial and would scrap the program if an “unacceptable level of risk” was identified.

A spokeswoman for the authority has confirmed the trial has been running for several weeks. She said the same number of call-takers were being rostered for day and night shifts. But numbers could fall to the lower levels in the event that a staff member called in sick, had to leave work unexpectedly or was required to attend a training session, because the position would not need to be replaced. The leaked email from the authority’s chief operating officer Julia Oxley said the proposal was being trialled due to high levels of absenteeism, staff “burnout” and expensive overtime bills for when shifts needed to be filled.

“Overtime adds significant costs to our operations that, if not required, might otherwise improve our service,” Ms Oxley said in the email. “We are hopeful this will address some of the ‘burnout’ and absenteeism issues staff are facing and improve our efficiency.”

United Firefighters Union state secretary Peter Marshall said the trial was another result of savage budget cuts and could compromise public safety on unpredictable days by delaying dispatches.

“Any delay in emergency response – even if we are talking minutes or seconds – could mean life or death,” he said. “What this means is that in peak periods we are going to see the potential for emergencies to be missed . . . this is Russian roulette with public lives.”

Victoria’s triple-0 operators handle, on average, a total of more than 5000 calls a day. Authority spokeswoman Rosemary Mullaly said community safety was the top priority and had not been jeopardised by the trial.

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