SOMERSET, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - Aug. 16, 2012) - Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) has been caught trying to recruit firefighters from among its existing workforce, to work casual shifts on the River Parrett in Bridgwater for about two months from 25 August. While doing this work, the firefighters will not have the protection of their usual terms and conditions agreement, payments will not be pensionable, they will get no sick pay, and their safety may be compromised, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said today.
The Fire Brigades Union has learned that DSFRS has been trying to persuade its firefighters to take on casual shifts protecting construction works being undertaken on the River Parrett in Bridgwater by Somerset County Council. They are treating the council as a "client" and asking it to pay for the service. DSFRS apparently no longer regards protecting council building work as part of its normal duties.
They want the firefighters to work casual shifts for about two months from 25 August, running a boat required for water rescue while Somerset County Council rebuilds parts of the harbour wall at West Quay, Bridgwater. While doing this work, the firefighters will not have the protection of their usual terms and conditions agreement, any injury would not be covered by normal pension provision, payments will not be pensionable, they will get no sick pay, and their safety may be compromised, the FBU said today.
Its alternative plan came to light when a company called Red One Ltd - which is a wholly owned commercial arm of DSFRS - started to try to recruit firefighters from among the DSFRS workforce, and several concerned firefighters showed the emails to the FBU.
The terms of work state: "As work is on a casual basis on behalf of a third party, you are not entitled to occupational sick pay whilst carrying out this work." They also state: "You are not covered by grey book terms and conditions (the agreement which lays down firefighters' terms and conditions) and any payments are not pensionable."
Firefighters will not be paid regularly. Instead, "Payments will be made in a lump sum in arrears at the end of the work assignment."
Although they are not protected by their terms of employment, they are required to bring with them the equipment they use in their normal work - their personal issue water rescue boots, gloves and helmet.
Arrangements for safety seem to be entirely down to the individual firefighter (SEE NOTE FOR EDITORS).
Tam McFarlane, FBU executive member for the South West and a former Bridgwater firefighter, said: "This plan is dangerous, and insulting to professional firefighters, who are being treated like casual labour.
Importantly, it constitutes an admission that cuts have bitten so deep, with 68 firefighting jobs lost in Devon and Cornwall since March 2010, that comprehensive protection cannot be provided. If the fire service cannot protect construction works on the River Parrett, where else will it be forced effectively to withdraw from? Will all construction projects be forced to go out and hire casual labour to provide fire protection? If so, what will be next? Businesses? Shops? Homes? Once you have started down this path, it could lead anywhere.
"Working on water is a highly specialised and dangerous area of work. This is why the Fire Service has become specialised in it. Instead of providing proper professional water rescue cover the Fire Service is hiding behind its private 'trading company' wing and trying to introduce casualised, ad hoc arrangements."
Bob Walker, FBU Chair for Devon and Somerset, said: "If this were a totally private company attempting to provide rescue cover via firefighters 'working on the side' the Fire Service would condemn it as unsafe and tell them to leave this type of protection to the professionals. The fact that there is some form of Fire Service involvement is a blurring of the lines between a professional public sector emergency service and a casualised private provider.
"If anything goes wrong with this work, it will be the DSFRS who will be mobilised and have to deal with it by using properly developed standard operating procedures and with the proper resources mobilised at the correct time.
"The firefighters who may be mobilised to such an incident will be properly covered and protected by hard fought for conditions of service, pension and compensation arrangements. Why should their colleagues being recruited by the fire and rescue service's commercial arm not have the same protection?"
NOTES FOR EDITORS
On safety the terms of work only say: "You are reminded of your responsibilities for health and safety under Section 7 & 8 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and as set out in the DSFRS Health and Safety Policy. These include the duty to take reasonable care to avoid injury to yourself or to others by your work activities or omissions, and to co-operate with us as your employer in the discharge of our statutory duties. In particular, you must acquaint yourself with Service policies applying to water rescue."