Fire crfews take strike action

By Jonathan BarnesFIREFIGHTERS in East Anglia joined a wave of unofficial industrial action last night over the suspension of crews for refusing to operate anti-terrorist equipment.

By Jonathan Barnes

FIREFIGHTERS in East Anglia joined a wave of unofficial industrial action last night over the suspension of crews for refusing to operate anti-terrorist equipment.

Thirty-six suspensions at three stations in Greater Manchester sparked sympathy action by firefighters across the country.

Last night, that included hundreds of firefighters from Essex, although there was no reported action in Suffolk.

The Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) claimed most brigades in the country had been affected by some form of action, with many crews only answering 999 calls.

Employers warned the action was illegal and was putting lives at risk as they urged the FBU to resume negotiations.

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However, the union accused managers of "bully boy" tactics and warned of a return to the national strikes of 18 months ago if any firefighter was dismissed.

Sympathy for the 36 firefighters spread throughout the country's brigades last night, with many union branches calling meetings to discuss the situation.

Del Godfrey, Essex secretary of the FBU, said: "The fire service is saying three stations are only taking 999 calls, but from the volume of calls I have had, I would say it is much more than that – as much as three-quarters of the brigade.

"Feelings are running very high about this. A lot of our members have told us they wish to support our colleagues in Greater Manchester and are only taking emergency calls.

"They are doing so as individuals in an unofficial position. This will not affect fire cover and it's not putting the public in danger. We're still going out to fires."

Last night, there was not believed to be any unofficial action taking place across Suffolk, although that could change over the next day or so.

FBU county secretary, Steve Brinkley, said: "We are working as normal at the moment and are waiting for guidance from head office."

A spokesman for Suffolk Fire Service said he was unaware of any unofficial action as yet.

The dispute flared on Tuesday night after firefighters in Salford were sent home for refusing to operate special anti-terrorist equipment.

They made their stance in protest at the failure to finalise the deal that ended the long-running national strike.

The union accused employers of introducing last-minute changes to the deal, which has held up payment of a 3.5% rise, backdated to last November.

But the employers denied the charge and said the union had walked away from talks to resolve a row over stand down time – when firefighters remain on duty during the night, but do not carry out training or inspections.

Christina Jebb, chairman of the fire service employers, said the unofficial action was putting lives at risk.

"I would like the FBU to repudiate the action and return to the negotiating table because they walked away from the discussions, not the employers," she added.

"It is down to whether firefighters should use their time productively or go to sleep for a third of their duty."

But the FBU called on employers to stop "dragging their feet" and decide at a meeting they are holding today to hold fresh talks.

"It is time they stopped this nonsense, stop trying to duck out of their agreements, sign off the deal and pay up," it said.

"In the absence of agreement we will recommend a ballot for industrial action at our conference in June.

"Firefighters and officers in Manchester have now been threatened with dismissal. That is disgraceful.

"If anyone is dismissed, there will be an immediate recall of the union's conference with a recommendation for strike action."

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