EXACTLY 18 years after the King’s Cross fire, Britain’s rail and firefighting unions on Friday launched a joint campaign to keep in place essential fire-safety regulations for sub-surface stations that were introduced after the 1987 disaster that claimed 31 lives.
RMT, ASLEF and the Fire Brigades Union have called a national demonstration at King’s Cross on November 26 to highlight the threat to public safety posed by plans to abolish the ‘Section 12’ regulations that prescribe safety standards for sub-surface stations all over Britain.
The regulations stipulate minimum safe staffing levels, means of detecting and warning of fires and means of escape and firefighting, as well as standards of fire-resistant construction, training and various other precautions, which are not specified in the Fire Safety Order the government wants to replace them with.
‘The government must not replace the current regulations until they can guarantee the same level of safety for the public, rail staff and emergency services.
‘If they cannot it would be a serious blow to public safety,’ FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said on Friday.
‘The essential elements of the current regulations must be maintained. We need guarantees there would be effective enforcement to underpin any safety regime,’ Wrack added.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: ‘The Fennell report into the 1987 Kings Cross fire found that these minimum standards were necessary, and in today’s climate they are even more essential now.
‘We have already beaten off one attempt to abolish the ‘Section 12’ regulations and we are now seeking a simple, unequivocal commitment from the government that these sensible and effective measures will be kept in place.’
ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: ‘Without these enforceable minimum standards operators will be invited to cut corners and compromise fire-safety, and it is simply not good enough for them to be replaced with what amount to discretionary measures.
‘We are asking the government to step back once and for all from this ill-thought-out plan, and not simply postpone it once more.
‘The fact that they are considering it at all shows an appaling lack of respect to the victims of King’s Cross.’
Mick Connolly, secretary of the TUC’s Southern and Eastern region, added: ‘These regulations are there to protect passengers and rail staff alike, and it is in all our interests to support the campaign to keep them in place.
‘Everyone who cares about fire-safety on our rail networks should support next Saturday’s demonstration at King’s Cross.’
Labour MP John McDonnell said at Friday’s launch: ‘We will be using every parliamentary device again to highlight the risk to the travelling public and workers in underground stations.
‘After July nobody in their right minds would be seeking to reduce safety measures on the Tube.
‘We shall be demanding an early debate on the floor of the House to ensure that the Government addresses these serious concerns.’
Meanwhile, London FBU has said it is taking legal action over the imposition of new employment contracts.
The FBU said on Thursday: ‘FBU London region has accused London fire brigade bosses of flouting contract law by unilaterally imposing new contracts on employees.
‘Every FBU member in London recently received through the post a copy of a new contract of employment from LFEPA.
‘However, the union has refused to recognise the new contracts, as there are, in parts, significant differences from existing contracts that have not been agreed.
‘Under contract law, employers are obliged to negotiate and seek agreement on any proposed changes to contracts before their implementation.
‘The union says that no such negotiations have taken place and is seeking a declaration in the High Court.’
FBU executive council member for London, Mick Shaw, said: ‘Once more, the London fire brigade has ignored its obligation to negotiate with the FBU and has unilaterally imposed changes on our members.
‘I think the time is fast approaching when they will realise that they have pushed our members too far.’
In an FBU consultative ballot, 3,217 London members, representing 98.5 per cent of the vote, rejected brigade management plans to introduce new 12-hour shifts, saying they wanted to continue working under the current five-on three-off arrangements.
The union says the shift changes will lead to reduced night-time cover and job cuts.
Meanwhile, opposition is growing to Hertfordshire fire service cuts.
The campaign against cuts to the fire and rescue service in Hertfordshire is building up steam, says the FBU.
At a meeting with fire chiefs on November 11, 200 residents turned up to save Bovingdon Fire Station from the axe.
The station, which is home to 10 retained firefighters, is set to close next April alongside retained station Radlett, while Watford will have a reduced service at night.
Jane Hogg, ward councillor for Bovingdon, Chipperfield and Flaunden, said at the meeting that the proposed closure of Bovingdon Fire Station was a ‘risk’ and urged a rethink on the situation.
‘I feel it is very important that Bovingdon fire station is retained for reasons of safety. With a very strong public response they (fire chiefs) must listen and hopefully reconsider,’ she added.
The cuts are designed to make savings of £500,000 countywide.
Hertfordshire MPs Mike Penning and David Gauke as well as borough councillors, have spoken out against the plans and have asked county council chiefs to reconsider.
In early October, 100 firefighters, residents’ groups, local councillors and Mayor Dorothy Thornhill, protested against the cuts to night time cover in Watford with a march through the town centre.
The Fire Brigades Union has accused Caroline Tapster, Chief Executive of Herts County Council, of ‘demonstrating a lack of understanding at the highest level over Hertfordshire’s proposed Safety Plan’.
A three-month long public consultation into the proposed cuts began on November 1st.