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Essex: Fire strike ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ - MP

PUBLISHED: 12:43 09 July 2012

Priti Patel MP for Witham

Priti Patel MP for Witham

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AN Essex MP has urged unionised firefighters who are preparing for a “dangerous” 24-hour strike to resolve their differences with the county’s fire authority.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Essex held a one-hour walkout on Saturday morning from 4am to 5am and are now set to step up their industrial action with a 24-hour strike from 9am on Wednesday, July 18.

Priti Patel, MP for Witham, said the strike action was “irresponsible behaviour” and that the parties, who are involved in talks with resolution organisation ACAS, had to reach an agreement. She said the stalemate, which is over the FBU’s opposition to cuts to frontline services, needed to be resolved as soon as possible.

She said: “There’s no doubt about it – it’s a serious issue when firefighters take the decision to go on strike. The fire authority is working alongside them in terms of trying to address their concerns.

“Going on strike really promotes irresponsible behaviour and is a dangerous act. They need to get cooperate, they are around the table and need to talk to each other for hopefully the last time and come up with an outcome sooner rather than later. It’s in the public interest.”

Union officials say the industrial action is a response to a reduction in front-line firefighter numbers and other changes.

The FBU claims Essex will have lost one-in-five front-line firefighters since 2008 if planned cuts go ahead.

Ahead of Saturday’s strike, members were told they would have to leave their stations or be deemed to be trespassers by Essex County Fire and Rescue officials.

A spokesman for the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) said it was simply looking to enforce regulations.

But firefighters taking part in the strike dismissed the move as “petty tactics” designed to make them as uncomfortable as possible.

An ECFRS spokesman said: “The service will be following strike protocols for all strike actions regardless of time of day.

“Any striking firefighter found on the premises during the one-hour strike could well be deemed to be trespassing.”

Nick Mayes, assistant secretary of the Essex FBU, said: “It’s not going to deter us from taking this action and we will be true to our word and try to limit the impact of the strikes.

“But there’s only so much of this kind of thing which will be tolerated by our members and it reflects the general atmosphere within the fire service.”

The fire service says it has made a number of concessions, including promising there will be no redundancies, and criticised the FBU for not engaging in meaningful talks.

An ECFRS spokesman said: “There were no fire calls during the strike period and at 5am, it was back to business as usual.

“ECFRS had some 40 appliances on the run County-wide during the stoppage. The next strike will be for 24 hours, beginning at 9am on July 18. Meanwhile, talks with ACAS are ongoing.”

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