Socialist Worker

Fire bosses threaten new wave of attacks

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2212

London firefighters protesting against shift changes last month  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

London firefighters protesting against shift changes last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


London firefighters are set to ballot for industrial action if bosses carry out their threat to start the process of sacking the entire workforce.

The FBU union expects that fire authority bosses will issue 90-day “consultation” notices this week as part of a plan to dismiss workers and re-employ them on worse contracts.

If that happens the union plans to immediately ballot for action short of a strike.

The new contracts will impose 12-hour day and night shift patterns on firefighters that will compromise fire safety and make childcare difficult.

Neither the bosses nor the union look likely to back down. This will be a key battle.

There are plans in place for mass meetings across London, and there is a growing mood for strike action if the sacking threats are not withdrawn. Firefighters across the coutry face a similar situation.

South Wales

Firefighters in South Wales are to ballot for action over job cuts and working hours.

The ballot for action short of a strike is over plans to slash 50 firefighters’ jobs at three fire stations in Maesteg, Penarth and New Inn (Pontypool).

Firefighters left working at these stations are being told they must more than double their hours on duty from 42 to 96 hours a week.

After a series of branch and mass meetings, reps voted unanimously to ballot members.

Essex

The top boss of Essex fire service has gone back at the 11th hour on a deal to end a long-running industrial dispute.

The FBU met with the chief fire officer last Wednesday to formally sign a final agreement and end the dispute.

This bad deal saw the union accept more than 40 job cuts—but contained some guarantees against cuts in the future.

However, the chief fire officer attempted to insert a new, unagreed clause taking back even this concession.

Keith Flynn, Essex FBU secretary, said, “Inevitably we will now be faced with calls from angry members to reinstate our industrial action.”

Essex firefighters should push for hard-hitting action that can win.

Derbyshire

Derbyshire fire service is running at half capacity and risking a serious accident, the FBU union is warning.

Tom Murray, FBU chair for the East Midlands, said, “A person who dials 999 may have to wait a frighteningly long time for the arrival of fire engines.”

As many as 20 out of the brigade’s 42 fire engines are not running on a day to day basis because of staff shortages.

Warwickshire

Firefighters in Warwickshire are threatening strikes after the Tory-run local council voted to close three fire stations.

The county council is pushing through plans to axe Warwick, Brinklow and Studley stations, and downgrade cover at Bedworth.

About 200 firefighters lobbied the council, and tens of thousands of people signed petitions opposing the cuts.

Warwickshire FBU brigade secretary Mark Rattray said, “We had said it would be [action] short of a strike, but we need to look at that again.”

Chief fire officer Graeme Smith, when asked if the cuts would hit response times, responded, “It depends where the fires are. If the fire is a hundred yards from your fire station, it’ll be quick.”

He also admitted, “We don’t have the back-up of the army and green goddesses like in the last national dispute [in 2002].”

Merseyside

Merseyside FBU is concerned that a trial of firefighting motorbikes could just be a way of cutting costs.

The two bikes hold 50 litres of water and chemical foam, and can be used by just one firefighter.

Bosses say they will only be used for small, “anti-social” fires such as car fires.

But Neil Thompson, FBU regional chair, said he was concerned they could “reduce fire cover as part of cost-cutting measures”.


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Tue 27 Jul 2010, 17:54 BST
Issue No. 2212
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