ACAS called in to settle fire dispute

By Mark HeathPROFESSIONAL mediators are to be called in to settle an ongoing dispute between Suffolk firefighters and their bosses which could lead to strikes.

By Mark Heath

PROFESSIONAL mediators are to be called in to settle an ongoing dispute between Suffolk firefighters and their bosses which could lead to strikes.

The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which mediated between the sides last year, is to get involved again.

Their intervention comes after Suffolk Fire Service threatened to hand out 10% pay cuts to crews at the Normanshurst fire station in Lowestoft who have refused to wash equipment from other stations.

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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned any such action may lead to firefighters walking out across the county.

Paul Woolstenholmes, Suffolk secretary of the FBU, branded the fire service's management style as “too aggressive and confrontational”.

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He also claimed bosses had ignored a lengthy report compiled by ACAS in January 2002 which sought to resolve the fire services internal problems.

“We want to get back into formal negotiations procedures again. We want to take things forward and see things implemented from the ACAS report,” said Mr Woolstenholmes.

“There's no way we can negotiate with the threat of pay cuts hanging over us - if that was not around, then we would certainly be willing to sit down and explain our side of the argument. The management style is too aggressive and confrontational.”

A spokesman for ACAS said it had had to take a back seat while the national fire dispute was fought out, but was now ready to work with Suffolk Fire Service again.

He added: “We look forward to moving the report forward. We are in touch with both sides about the process and to discuss our future involvement.

“We are confident that we can have suitable and appropriate discussions with both sides and reactivate the good points from our report.”

Peter Monk, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, urged the FBU to arrange a clear-the-air meeting with fire bosses.

He said: “The door is always open to discuss the dispute, but the FBU have not taken that option.

“It takes two parties to participate in these things - my view is that communication has not broken down, it's just that the channels are not being used. The first thing we must do is talk. We would like to get it resolved.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Fire Service added: “It is essentially an internal matter for the fire service and something which we believe can be resolved simply and swiftly.

“We've written to the FBU for their co-operation on this matter and invited them to come in and sort it out in a reasonable manner.

“We have also offered a number of round-table discussions, but so far to date the FBU have not taken us up on this offer.

“We're disappointed that the union has chosen not to speak to us directly about it, but to conduct their negotiations so publicly.”

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