Socialist Worker

Firefighters stand determined against bosses' attacks

Issue No. 2165

Disputes are erupting across the fire service as workers refuse to bow to a string of attacks on their working conditions and the service.

The callousness of the attacks indicates that management has decided to go on an all-out offensive.

Fire brigade managements in several areas have said that they will sack workers who refuse to agree to changes to their shift times.

In Lincolnshire, bosses have said they will sack 112 firefighters in February next year and only re-employ those who agree to a new shift system.

The new system would require firefighters to be on duty for up to 108 hours without a break – posing a serious threat to the lives of the firefighters and everyone who relies on the service.

Chris Hides, chair of the Lincolnshire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) branch, said, “There has been no meaningful consultation on how this shift system affects our members. The FBU believes the shift system is not family friendly and discriminates against women.”

In South Yorkshire bosses are trying to force firefighters to work four 12-hour shifts in a row, instead of their existing shift pattern of two nine-hour days and two 15-hour nights.

The fire authority has issued redundancy notices to all 744 firefighters and these will come into force on 1 January.

Bosses will then issue new contracts with changed terms and conditions. Anyone who refuses to accept the new contract could face losing their job for breach of contract.


Workers say that the new shifts could force them to leave their children in childcare for more than 12 hours a day.

Some believe that bosses are trying to impose the changes because they want to cut the amount of overnight fire cover, and that this is part of a wider attack on the service.

The workers, who are currently balloting for action short of a strike and are refusing to work overtime, are now planning to ballot for strike action.

FBU members around the country have backed their campaign and will join a rally in Barnsley on Monday 28 September.

Meanwhile talks between management and the union in Essex have broken down again, after workers said that their bosses were not interested in negotiating.

Firefighters there have voted by four to one to take action against planned cuts.

“Management is targeting life-and-death services for cuts while planning a massive increase in the information technology budget and wanting to buy a helicopter,” said Keith Flynn from Essex FBU.

“The fire authority wants to spend money in the wrong areas – cutting frontline services when the money clearly exists to avoid that.

“We remain determined to resolve the issue through negotiation, but that requires a management which is willing to talk.”

Essex FBU says the fire authority wants to cut the number of firefighters from 954 at the end of last year to 905 by March next year.

Meanwhile, FBU members in London began industrial action last week to defend their conditions, after a 91 percent vote in favour of taking action short of a strike.

Firefighters are following a strict work to rule, including an overtime ban.

The recent votes for industrial action show the mood to fight exists.

With major battles looming, it is vital that this is turned into strike action. Building a rank and file network will be crucial to winning this.

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Article information

Tue 18 Aug 2009, 17:47 BST
Issue No. 2165
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