Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

June 30, 2009 11:48 ET

744 Firefighters Face the Sack in South Yorkshire

LONDON, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - June 30, 2009) - South Yorkshire fire authority says it will sack 744 of its firefighters if they will not accept changes to their contracts of employment. It is the first time mass sackings have been attempted in the fire service.

The Fire Brigades Union was notified of the move by fax this morning. It came with formal notification that 744 firefighters will be sacked on 1st January 2010.

That part of the fire authority meeting which took the decision was held behind closed doors on 29 June with the public and media excluded. The authority put a film of the meeting on their website with that part of the meeting left out.

In a clear breach of normal industrial relations processes, the South Yorkshire FBU were not notified that the matter was to be discussed at the fire authority meeting.

The FBU has likened the move to the worst bully boy tactics of the worst type of employer. It said the Labour controlled fire authority was trampling on the basic standards of decency the labour and trade union movement expected.

Fire Brigade Union General Secretary Matt Wrack said: "The voters of South Yorkshire will be appalled at the way this fire authority is treating its firefighters. This is the worst kind of bully-boy tactics from the worst kind of employer.

"It was cowardly to hold that part of the meeting in secret and keep the debate away from the public. Their cowardice is only underlined by their public statements which fail to make clear they plan to sack 744 firefighters.

"There will certainly be a strong response from South Yorkshire firefighters. The fire authority has taken the road to serious industrial action by this disgraceful move.

"The fire authority has never made a convincing case for the changes they want. It is change for the sake of change which would cause havoc with family life and childcare.

"At every stage the fire authority has wanted to impose change rather than negotiate it. This approach has made matters worse and they have now sunk to an all-time low for fire service employers.

"I would expect a public backlash against the fire authority. What they have done is a disgrace and has no place in modern industrial relations."

The underlying dispute is about shift changes sought by the fire authority which wants firefighters to work four consecutive shifts of 12 hours. At every stage they have sought to impose changes rather than negotiate, tactics which went down badly with firefighters.

If unchallenged by the FBU longer day shifts of 12-hours, up from the current 9 hours, there would also be changes to start and finish times. Firefighters say the changes will damage family life and cause problems with childcare.

The changes would have meant firefighters with children being forced to start at 8 in the morning and finish at 8 at night. That extends their days, but it also extends the day for their children to as much as 13 hours in childcare if such places are available at all.

Under the proposals existing childcare arrangements would be disrupted and new arrangements would have to be found. Before and after school clubs can't fill the gap, and there is little formal childcare available at weekends, public holidays or school holidays when firefighters are working as normal.

When similar changes were introduced in West Yorkshire it resulted in a worse service to the public. The fire authority had to re-negotiate their original plans to unravel the changes introduced.

Those fire crews who work shifts do so in 48 hour blocks of two 9 hour day shifts (9am to 6pm) followed by two 15 hour night shifts (6pm to 9am). The proposals would introduce 12 hours day working and 12 hours night working.

Firefighters in South Yorkshire voted three to one in favour of industrial action short of a strike in opposition to the changes.

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