Half of London’s fire engines are off the road as a result of industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union. The Croydon station, which is specially equipped to handle anti-terrorist incidents, was closed on Monday, as were Bethnal Green and Bromley stations. Overall, 91 out of 169 fire engines were off the roads, and in 114 instances callers were told their Fire Brigade was ‘out of service’.
Francis Beckett of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said: “This is an action short of a strike, but it comes after a ban on all overtime. It is broadly speaking a withdrawal of goodwill.”
The action was triggered when the London Fire Brigade (LFB) sent out letters of dismissal to all 4500 London fire fighters. The dismissal notice was a way of by-passing protracted negotiations over changes in shift patterns. Once fired, the LFB would have been able to re-hire the same workers under the new and less favourable conditions which they have been protesting against.
A spokesperson from the LFB said: “We wanted to change the start and finish times, making day shifts longer and nights shorter”
Current shift patterns have nine hour shifts (9am – 6pm) in the morning and 15 hour shifts (6pm – 9am) at night. The proposed changes would change the schedules so that both shifts would be 12 hours long.
“This means employees could spend more time doing training work and community safety like setting more home fire alarms”
According to Francis Beckett the real reason for the change in shift patterns is that it allows the fire brigade to reduce cover at night and, in the long term, to reduce staff. Fire fighters are also concerned that the new shift patters – requiring four 12 hour shifts every week, will make it almost impossible for them to see their children and will make London less safe at night.
Discussions about the changes in shifts and work patterns have been going on for five years between the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the union.
The LFB said: “We believe the debate has gone on long enough and the Brigade can only provide the services that it needs to by making these changes now”.
The union has 95% support from fire fighters throughout the UK. It said in a statement that the government should scrap this project and invest in Britain’s fire control.
On November 2nd the FBU are hoping to join forces with trade unions RMT and TSSA to synchronize their action with the next tube strike.
“There are fire engines available so it will not mean there is not enough fire protection in any area. If some engines are temporarily unavailable there will still be enough engines to cover the whole of London”.