Firefighters ballot on industrial action as union fears jobs cull

Fire Brigade Union (FBU) members in London have until September 17 to decide if they back unspecified industrial action – short of striking – to try to prevent the London Fire Brigade (LFB) changing their contracts to facilitate a change in shift patterns. The FBU claims this could be a precursor to job cuts.

The ballot follows the issue of notices from the LFB to London firefighters stating that their employment contracts would be changed to reflect new shift patterns. FBU spokesman Francis Beckett said the LFB wanted to change shift patterns from the current basic nine-hour day and 15-hour night-shifts to two shifts of 12 hours each. “That is intended as a precursor to cutting night shift jobs,” said Beckett.

Commenting on the ballot, London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “This is totally unnecessary. Both sides have agreed all along that discussions have been businesslike and although no agreement has been reached yet, a settlement should and can be produced which will satisfy all parties within the next three months.”

Last month, said the FBU, the LFB issued “S 118″ notices stating that firefighters had 90 days to agree new terms including the revised shift patterns.

The LFB said it did offer concessions and sweeteners to the FBU including changing shifts to a 13-hour day and 11-hour night pattern. It also said it offered additional payments for firefighters when travelling to cover another fire station at £30 a shift and increased rest periods for firefighters at night.

No formal meetings between the FBU and the LFB have been arranged but, said and LFB spokesman, “We’ve had lots of meetings and informal meetings continue.”

The FBU said that action may include an overtime ban and/or a ban on members acting up – ie taking on a more senior role on an informal basis.

Beckett said the FBU believes that the LFB has an arrangement with AssetCo, a private emergency services provider, for the supply of firefighting services should a dispute begin and escalate. He also suggested many of the 700 were Polish nationals. AssetCo would not comment on either point.

In July 2009, AssetCo said it was awarded a seven-year contract to provide the London Fire Brigade with up to 700 staff, trained to provide a support firefighting service. The company said that its reserve firefighters “were recruited and fully trained to provide contingency to London Fire Brigade in the event of extreme situations such as pandemic illness or flooding.

Our crews are available for immediate deployment with crew competency maintained through continuous professional development.”

Meanwhile the Manchester Evening News (MEN) reported that the Greater Manchester Fire Service is braced to lose between 25 and 40% of its government funding as the coalition slashes public spending.

The MEN said: “Union leaders say at least 150 firefighters’ jobs are likely to go across the region. They say they are prepared to take industrial action if compulsory redundancies are demanded.”

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