Fire chief attacks FBU officials

FIREFIGHTERS in Essex could be unwittingly led into pay cuts and strike action by their own union officials, the county's fire chief has claimed.

Annie Davidson

FIREFIGHTERS in Essex could be unwittingly led into pay cuts and strike action by their own union officials, the county's fire chief has claimed.

Chief fire officer David Johnson alleged the Essex Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) had “not come clean” to its members about an ongoing ballot which stems from a dispute about cuts to frontline services.

Mr Johnson claimed union members could be “misled into voting yes” only to find themselves undertaking industrial action which could lead to a cut in pay.

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But his allegations have been dismissed by the union, which hit back and said Mr Johnson had the power to settle the dispute and had been aware of the union's position “from day one”.

The row stems from proposed changes outlined in the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service's Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) which would see different crewing arrangements for aerial ladder platforms and rescue tenders.

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The union claims this would lead to one in 10 frontline firefighters being lost and put lives at risk.

Fire service bosses deny that, and say the change would minimise council tax increases and bring Essex in line with four out of five fire services across the UK.

Union members are currently being balloted about taking industrial action such as not working overtime and not 'acting up' to cover for officers.

The union told the EADT in June that the vote would be for or against industrial action “up to, but not including, strike action”.

But Mr Johnson said: “We have repeatedly asked the FBU what action it plans to take but have still had no response.

“The union has not come clean to the service or its members about what action it plans to implement, which can only lead to the conclusion that it is planning something more sinister than simply withdrawing overtime and refusing to act up.

“My fear is that our employees will be misled into voting yes and then find themselves facing financial hardship they never planned for, or even more disastrously giving the FBU sanction to ballot further for strike action.”

Mick Rogers, Essex FBU membership secretary, said last night: “We had a meeting between senior FBU and senior management and the chief fire officer was present and he did ask that question and we made it quite clear what action was going to be taken - we made it clear to him there is no ballot for strike action.

“From day one we have never changed that position - the chief officer is well aware of that.

“No-one in the FBU or the fire service wants to see any form of industrial unrest, all we are asking - and he could resolve this straight away - is to sit round the table like adults and discuss the issues.

“We have got over 1,100 members who are saying they are not happy about things and we want to do something about it but we are not being listened to.”

Mr Rogers added: “The chief fire officer fails to understand that the union is not six people that make up the executive committee - it is all the members and we have 1,130 members and they are the people that are requesting the action we are balloting for.”

The deadline for union members to send their ballot papers back in is July 31.

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