Swell of support for suspended firefighter

Suspended firefighter Sian Griffiths Photo: Tim Hoy

A campaign is underway to reinstate a decorated London firefighter who was suspended this weekend in what colleagues suggest is “a retaliation” from management for her prominent support of recent firefighters’ strikes.

Sian Griffiths, 50, has received over 400 messages of support since her suspension.

Ms Griffiths was escorted from the premises of London Fire Brigade’s Southwark Training Centre on Remembrance Sunday, just two days after receiving the Queen’s Fire Service Medal at Buckingham Palace. She is accused of bullying and harassing a colleague who crossed the picket line during the recent fire strikes.

The Fire Brigade’s Union has accused management of “punishing Union activists”. A colleague of Ms Griffith’s told East London Lines that there was “no case to answer as far as bullying and harassment is concerned on her part” and that management had targeted her because of her firm and prominent support of the strikes.

“What they want is compliance. She’s good enough and cares enough to make a stand,” said the firefighter, who did not wish to be named. He claims to have been warned he may face suspension if he speaks out.

London Fire Brigade would not be drawn on the allegations that Ms Griffith’s suspension was connected to her stance on the strike. “A number of staff have been suspended from duty following evidence of potential acts of gross misconduct,” a spokesman said. “Investigations are ongoing and the Brigade cannot comment further at this stage.”

The FBU went on strike two weeks ago over a dispute with London Fire Brigade over proposed new shift patterns which it is claimed will adversely affect employees day-to-day lifestyle. Last week’s controversial ‘bonfire night strike’ was called off after the FBU put forward a plan which would extend negotiations into next year. Mediated negotiations began yesterday.

The suspension is the latest in a series of turbulent developments in the ongoing dispute. Two weeks ago a striking firefighter and an FBU official were injured after being struck by a fire engine and car that were attempting to cross picket lines.

Fellow firefighters have reacted angrily to Ms Griffiths’ suspension.

Ian Leahair, the Fire Brigades Union executive member for the London region, has written to London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson, calling for her immediate re-instatement.

Mr Dobson had recently called Griffiths a “trailblazer”, after she received the prestigious Queen’s medal at the palace. The Commissioner said at the time, the award was “a reflection of the tremendous work that Sian has done throughout her career and especially her work in raising the awareness and acceptance of women in the fire service.”

Ms Griffiths,  formerly the station manager at Shadwell in Tower Hamlets, was one of the first female firefighters recruited in the capital.

According to former colleague Ms Ghada Razuki, Ms Griffiths has “spent her life campaigning against bullying and harassment at work.” She believes the suspension to be “a direct response to Sian’s refusal to become a compliant manager” during the recent actions.

A group of female colleagues intend to lobby a meeting of the London fire authority this Thursday afternoon. Ms. Razuki, who is helping to organize the protest insisted the suspension “is an insult to Sian and a waste of taxpayer’s money.  It should be lifted immediately.  There can be little doubt that this is retaliation for Sian supporting the two eight-hour strikes.”

The schedule for Thursday’s meeting does not include Ms. Griffiths suspension, but will focus on the picketers who were injured during the strikes.

London Assembly member Darren Johnson has called for an investigation into the incidents, one of which occurred when Mr. Leahair was struck by a fire engine while picketing Southwark Training Centre. On the same day, first aid was reportedly withheld from Tamer Ozdemir, a 30-year-old firefighter, when he was hit by a brigade boss’ car on the picket line. Mr. Ozedemir has suffered pelvic injuries as a result.

Union officials would not be drawn on whether Ms. Griffiths’ suspension, or the picket line incidents, would be raised in further industrial discussions.

However a press release did confirm that given the current climate, “some rank and file firefighters fear victimisation if they are too vocal in their support for industrial action.”

Leave a Reply