By TOBY WALKER
OFFICERS in charge of the Coffs-Clarence Local Area Command (CCLAC) have been given one month to address staff shortages in the Lower Clarence by the Police Association (PA).
Following a PA branch meeting last week, Clarence Valley police resolved to suspend their threat of industrial action until next month's meeting in early April.
The possibility of Valley-wide work stoppages by police now hangs in the balance, leaving the dispute's next course of action to effectively be decided by the upper tiers of the CCLAC.
According to PA organiser John Villiotis, the union has so far been satisfied with the CCLAC's commitment to keep a duty officer stationed in the Clarence Valley.
But it was the lack of officers on the ground in the Lower River areas that remained the sticking point.
He said the PA was prepared to allow CCLAC management time to commit more officers to Yamba and Iluka, but indicated a strike would still be considered if staffing levels weren't improved before the PA's next meeting in early April.
While the threat of a police strike has loomed over the Valley since the beginning of the year, Mr Villiotis felt it might not be the right tactic for police to employ in their ongoing dispute.
He said reports of police shortages at other Northern NSW LAC's, like Tamworth and the Manning River, had demonstrated police staffing problems to be more than just a parochial issue, but one affecting many parts of the State.
Mr Villiotis said he would like to see the PA form a 'united front' of police from those commands affected by the perceived shortages in an effort to persuade the Police Ministry to send more officers to the northern regions.
The Police Ministry is the policymaking arm of the NSW police force.
Its decisions are not directed by Police Minister Carl Scully.
"I think it's fair to say that it (a strike) would be up to the membership to decide," Mr Villiotis said.
"I think it's also fair to say their patience is running low and I don't know if the membership are going be prepared to do much more waiting around after the next meeting.
"...tactically, I wouldn't advocate industrial action locally yet until we can get the other branches (of the PA) together with us and then start action on a group basis involving other commands as well.
"To that end I'd probably encourage our members to avoid local industrial action which is likely to achieve little but really, I'm in the hands of the membership and they might tell me they're going to do that anyway."