‘Withdraw these “flexible” contracts’ – West Midlands FBU launch ‘Fired Up’ campaign

West Midlands FBU banner on a TUC demonstration against cuts
West Midlands FBU banner on a TUC demonstration against cuts

WEST Midlands Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has written to Labour councillors and MPs ‘to raise our serious concerns over the treatment of firefighters within West Midlands Fire Service and to give voice to the firefighters concerned; sadly those voices are not currently being heard.’

The FBU’s letter continued: ‘The FBU think it is essential that as an elected representative, you are informed of the treatment to your firefighters and the risk it poses to the people you represent.

‘Firefighters are currently facing attacks that include but are not limited to:

‘• The introduction of new “flexible” contracts of employment which oblige new firefighters to undertake any work, including work outside the nationally agreed role of a firefighter, which the employer deems appropriate. We see this a clear circumnavigation of collective bargaining and an attack on firefighters’ rights as trade unionists. Such issues are subject to negotiation, this has not been respected.

‘• Currently the work being introduced involves taking on NHS and Council outsourced contracts including transporting patients from hospital and assisting people who have fallen in the home. This work is to be undertaken by frontline firefighters and their frontline vehicles. This means that fire crews could be tied up doing non-emergency work and unable to attend serious incidents such as property fires and road traffic collisions. This work should be done by dedicated and trained professional health workers.

‘• Firefighters have democratically voted to say that they do not believe this work is appropriate for a firefighter or is a correct use of emergency resources and as such have withdrawn their support for this work. Because the service have unwisely signed up to long running contracts, they have had to pay bumper rates to volunteers to fulfil their promise; we firmly believe this means they are running at a loss and tax payers’ money is being used to prop up these failing ventures.

‘• We believe there is a real danger that the introduction of commissioned work could represent the opening to back door privatisation of your fire service. Sadly, these attacks are being ratified by a Labour led Fire Authority. Elected Labour Party members on the Fire Authority have not listened to, or have been prevented from listening to the views of firefighters despite the fact that their union, the FBU, is affiliated to the party.

‘As recently as 17/01/18, the Chair of the Fire Authority refused a request from the FBU to address the Fire Authority at their next full meeting, blocking the Fire Authority members from hearing from the workforce on this matter. We believe that your constituents would be dismayed to hear that they might see a delay in the emergency response of their fire service when they need it due to the need to fulfil outside commissioned work.

‘Response times for the fire service are up, and with firefighters and emergency frontline vehicles tied up at non-emergency work, the threat of further increases in response times is very concerning. Last year, rescues in the West Midlands were up 18%. The communities of the West Midlands need every available firefighter and fire appliance available to respond to life and death situations, not non-emergency work.

‘The FBU firmly believe that the extra non firefighting work that West Midlands Fire Service are doing is running at a financial loss, potentially taking essential funds away from the frontline firefighting resources. Your constituents would be further dismayed to know that their hard earned contributions via taxation are being spent to prop up failed management projects.

‘The FBU will do everything possible to avoid this escalating into a trade dispute with industrial action. We have been reasonable at every stage. We do not want as a Labour Party affiliated trade union to be in dispute with a Labour led Fire Authority, especially with local elections coming up in May. However the current reality is that the Fire Authority is overseeing the undermining of the FBU and impeaching on our members rights as trade union members, showing no willingness to cease their current support for this anti-trade union and worker attack.

‘We must defend our members and so far, we are being left with very few options left to consider.

‘There is no place in Labour Party values for the issuing of “flexible” contracts of employment to firefighters. In fact it is directly against the principles and fundamental aims of the party.

‘Trade unions put their faith in the Labour Party – the political wing of the labour movement – that they will defend trade union members’ rights and protect the workers from attacks by management. We ask that you support us now. We urge you to speak to colleagues within the Labour Party, and speak to those on the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority.

‘We encourage you to write to them and ask them to listen to your firefighters so that we can protect the people it affects the most; the communities you represent. We urge you to ask the Fire Authority to withdraw these “flexible” contracts of employment and cease this course of direction. We have launched our campaign today called “Fired Up” and we would appreciate your support during this campaign.

‘It includes a petition which can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/west-midlands-fire-service-stop-west-midlands-firefighters-being-taken-away-from-the-frontline, social media publicity and we will shortly be organising street stalls in order to highlight the issues we have explained above to the public.

‘We are available to meet to discuss this further, so please do not hesitate in contacting us to arrange a meeting or to speak to us by phone. We will also keep you updated as this regrettable situation develops.

‘Yours Sincerely,

‘Steve Price-Hunt, Brigade Secretary

‘Andrew Scattergood, Brigade Chair.’