The Fire Service speaks out

As the fire dispute heads towards resolution, Paul Nelson asks Carol
McCletchie, HR director at Cleveland Fire Service, about the burning issues of
pay and modernisation

Q Do current shift patterns need to be changed and part-time and flexible
working options introduced to encourage increased diversity in the fire
service?

A The Fire Service is a front-line service whose effective
functioning is essential to the quality of life, through preservation and
safeguarding of life, property, and our economic and social fabric. We are
well-regarded by the public and the service is effective in many aspects of its
performance.

But it is also a service in need of change and reform; a service, which has
to consider new ways of working, and which needs to attract a more diverse
workforce that better reflects the community it serves. Currently, 99 per cent
of firefighters are male and 98.5 per cent are white.

We need to consider how to better deploy staff and other resources, and
introduce other shift patterns – including part-time working – to boost
diversity, flexibility, create a family-friendly environment, and expand
community safety work and other activities dependent on local need.

Q Should firefighters be able to work overtime?

A Firefighters should be allowed to work voluntary pre-planned
overtime, thereby increasing the available resources to meet demand but also to
boost their individual earnings.

Conversely, the service is creating family-friendly policies, inclusive of
an appropriate work-life balance, which adheres to the requirements of the
Working Time Directive.

Hence, the choice is an individual one, but there needs to be the
flexibility to enable it to happen.

Q Should part-time firefighters be able to work alongside full-time
firefighters?

A In respect of the role they undertake, a firefighter is a
firefighter, regardless of the terms of conditions of employment. The
implementation of the Integrated Personal Development System (IPDS) will
specify the role of a firefighter and not differentiate between employment
statuses. This means all firefighters will undertake the same role, and
therefore working arrangements are not an issue.

Q Should paramedic training be introduced?

A One of the main drivers for change in the Fire Service is
broadening the range of its work. Equally, in dealing with emergencies, the
public expects the police, fire and ambulance services to work closely
together. Consideration of collaborative working between emergency services
must include the provision of first response medical care where lives could be
saved.

In practice, where the ambulance service is unable to respond quickly enough
to an emergency and it is practical and cost effective to do so, it makes
absolute sense for the Fire Service, with proper training and equipment, to
assist and provide an improved service to the public.

Q The Bain Report calls for HR to be mainstreamed in the Fire Service to
move away from a militaristic culture. Is this fair?

A The Fire Service is creating a culture which enhances its new role
within the community it serves. Good people management should be part of every
manager’s portfolio. As an HR director, one of my roles is to ensure HR is
strategic.

Q Is the Government right that a big pay claim can only be achieved
alongside modernisation?

A The Government has made its position clear – decisions on pay must
reflect and support the Government’s priority of reforming and improving public
services. Pay and workforce reforms play a key role in improving the delivery
of customer-focused public services.

Therefore, while Fire Service staff should be recognised for the
contribution they make to the delivery of good public services, and be
appropriately rewarded, the pay must be balanced with modernisation which
includes improved effectiveness, more flexible ways of working, performing new
roles and acquiring new skills, as well as efficiency savings.

Q How do you see the dispute being resolved? Is 16 per cent the right pay
deal?

A Through constructive negotiation. The right pay deal will be the
agreement that brings an early resolution to the dispute.

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