Ian Leahair, FBU Executive Council Member for London, on Thursday issued the following statement on London fire commissioner Ron Dobson’s threat to sack the entire London workforce and re-employ them on new contracts, in a bid to impose shift changes.
The statement said: ‘The Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) yesterday issued 188 notification to the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
‘He stated that if an agreement cannot be reached locally on the implementation of 12hr shifts then effectively he will sack every firefighter, crew manager and manager totalling almost 6,000 members of uniformed staff and re-engage them on new revised contracts of employment to work 12hr shifts.
‘The FBU in London have condemned this action as both provocative and premature, especially as FBU officials within London have been working hard to reach an agreement that could be put to its membership for consideration.
‘The Commissioner himself has stated on numerous occasions that the talks were both constructive and business like, yet yesterday he and the fire authority blew any chance of an agreement at this stage out of the water, by implementing the threat to sack the capital’s firefighters and managers who work the current shift system.
‘He has further, today angered both local FBU officials involved in the negotiations and the capital’s firefighters by claiming on BBC Radio London that he was prepared to accept a change to 11/13.
‘But what he failed to state was that such a proposal could only be tabled if the FBU were prepared to recommend acceptance of it to its members with all the detrimental demands to the conditions of service of firefighters that would be attached to it.
‘The Commissioner has further compounded the anger by stating he felt that the union had blocked negotiations over the past five years and that the FBU’s decision to ballot was premature.
‘The FBU have been given little choice but to respond to the issuing of mass sacking by demanding that any such threat be withdrawn or the union will ballot its members for industrial action.
‘And as for the claim that the union has somehow blocked negotiations for five years, the FBU has attended all meetings and has conducted itself in a professional and business-like manner attempting to secure an agreement that would be acceptable to its members without the need for threats of mass sackings and industrial action.
‘Having reflected on the events of yesterday, the FBU in London are bitterly disappointed at the decision of the LFB to carry out the mass sackings of the capital’s firefighters if they do not succumb to the fire authority’s demands.
‘However, we are not surprised that this approach has been taken.
‘It clearly shows that we were right all along that both the authority and principle managers did not wish to negotiate with a desire to reach agreement and that their proposals for change are cuts-driven.
‘This is a measure which will place both the capital’s firefighters and the communities they serve at great risk when the cuts take place, which they will, may be not this year but they will come.
‘Their own leaked document that we obtained showed the true agenda behind change and the authority can hide behind the London Safety Plan 4 for this year, but they can’t do that for ever, the truth will eventually come out, but by that time it may be too late to retrieve the damage that would have been caused.
‘Finally, the FBU urge the fire authority to think again and withdraw the threats of mass sackings and get back round the table to avert any unnecessary industrial action.’
In a letter to FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, London fire commissioner Dobson outlined plans to dismiss 5,557 employees — 3,982 firefighters, 730 crew managers, 834 watch managers and 11 non-operational firefighters.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said on Wednesday: ‘Sacking all of London’s firefighters as a way of trying to impose new contracts is the action we would expect from Victorian mill owners – not from a modern public service.
‘I am sure Londoners will be appalled at how their firefighters are being treated. We will fight the disgraceful attack every step of the way.
‘We and the principal management of the London Fire Brigade do have a real disagreement about the way forward in difficult economic times, but until yesterday we were talking about it constructively, and I hoped to reach an agreement both sides could live with.
‘The chances of that agreement have diminished dramatically this morning.
‘I cannot believe the professional firefighters in charge at the London Fire Brigade would have wanted to do this damage to their service.
‘It may be that this foolish action was forced on them by their political master, Brian Coleman, who seems to have a very personal dislike of firefighters and their trade union.’
Commissioner Dobson said sacked firefighters would be paid a week’s pay for each year of service, up to a maximum of 12 years, in lieu of notice but would not receive any redundancy payment.
In his letter, Dobson said the London fire authority wanted to ‘put a definite timetable in place to reach agreement, and is contemplating terminating the contracts of these staff and offering to re-engage them on new contracts of employment’.
A three-month consultation was launched on Wednesday.
Dobson said: ‘I want to use the consultation period to focus the ongoing meetings we are having with the FBU and reach an agreement.
‘The discussions so far have been open and businesslike and I am confident that these negotiations can and should produce a settlement.’
Firing and re-employing firefighters on new contracts has already been done by the South Yorkshire brigade.