Firefighters to hold ballot for industrial action

FIREFIGHTERS across Essex are to press ahead with a ballot for industrial action, with furious union bosses warning that there will be a “yes” vote.

James Hore

FIREFIGHTERS across Essex are to press ahead with a ballot for industrial action, with furious union bosses warning that there will be a “yes” vote.

Talks between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and management have failed to secure a commitment to “negotiate rather than impose” changes, including job losses.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service is set to implement a rolling programme of cuts to the frontline 999 service which the union believes will leave too few firefighters on duty to crew all engines.

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Numbers are set to drop from 954 firefighters last December to an average of 905 by March next year.

The FBU has accused the fire authority of targeting frontline fire crews for cuts rather than looking at genuine efficiency savings.

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But Chief Fire Officer David Johnson has said the union is not in touch with the reality of the current financial climate.

Both sides have agreed to further talks but union members will still receive ballot papers for industrial action that will not go as far as strike action.

Paul Adams, Essex FBU brigade secretary, said: “Essex firefighters and officers are happy to look at where genuine savings can be found rather than target the frontline 999 service for cuts. There is a real danger that frontline crews will be spread far too thinly across the county.

“The fire authority wants to force cuts through without honest consultation. They also want to continue to impose a range of other changes without agreement which was always a recipe for a ballot.

“No one wanted to start a ballot and we delayed triggering the move so we could have some further talks. These took place, but we were not given the assurances about the frontline cuts and other changes we were seeking.

“We are happy to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement, but that cannot be done when change is simply being imposed and the fire authority refuses to reconsider the cuts. Any industrial action is weeks away and that time needs to be used in constructive talks to resolve the issues.”

Chief Fire Officer Johnson has already urged the FBU not to “sleepwalk into a disaster”.

He said union officials had been “totally irresponsible” in their efforts to persuade firefighters to take industrial action.

“In Essex, we are looking at changes that 75 per cent of other UK fire and rescue services have already implemented.

“I believe that our firefighters are more in touch with the reality of the economic situation than the FBU leadership gives them credit for and I am sure they, like everyone else in our communities, understands that Essex is not immune to the impact of the credit crunch.

“The time has come for the union to stop burying its head in the sand and work with us for the future of the Service, its employees and the communities we are here to protect,” he said.

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