Almost 8,000 firefighters in England, almost one in five, will be taking some form of industrial action from tomorrow, in a series of regional disputes.
Action short of a strike, including an overtime ban, is already taking place in South Yorkshire, Humberside and London with Essex set to follow tomorrow.
London firefighters are taking action against change to their working conditions, while Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is fighting planned cuts to frontline services and firefighter posts.
Essex FBU official Keith Handscombe told News Line yesterday: ‘There was some progress in the latest talks last Friday and there will be more talks on Wednesday but the industrial action is going ahead from 9am on Wednesday.
‘It will include an overtime ban, a ban on acting up to cover senior ranks, and officer ranks not working on rota days-off or leave-days.
‘The action is basically all voluntary hours working being stopped.’
The FBU said that between 1997 and 2007 there had been a cut in frontline personnel in the UK, while headquarters staff had risen by 40 per cent.
The FBU added that firefighters in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire had been threatened with the sack if they did not sign new contracts by the New Year which involved working 12-hour day shifts.
FBU officials also warned of cuts looming in Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester adding that it expected the ‘cuts crisis’ to spread to other fire authorities.
Firefighters from across South Yorkshire are attending mass meetings this week to signal their opposition to job cuts.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack is addressing meetings with firefighters in Rotherham and Doncaster today and Barnsley tomorrow.
He said yesterday: ‘Targeting frontline fire services for cuts is Treasury endorsed and Audit Commission driven.
‘It explodes the government myth that frontline services, especially 999 services, are somehow being protected from cuts.
‘We have a perverse situation in Essex where the fire authority say they have a budget crisis.
‘In fact, they have simply decided to save £3 million from frontline services while wanting to buy a helicopter and spend an extra £5 million on computer systems.
‘Fire services have seen an explosion in the numbers of office-based support staff while emergency crews have been cut.
‘Frontline fire crews are still being exclusively targeted for even more cuts.
‘The government and Audit Commission have created the conditions for the worst industrial disharmony in the fire service since the 2003 dispute.
‘Frontline fire services are being exclusively targeted for cuts.’
The FBU said in a statement: ‘Essex Fire and Rescue Service are set to implement a rolling programme of cuts to the frontline 999 emergency response service.
‘The result will be fewer firefighters spread more thinly across Essex, leaving too few firefighters on duty to crew all the fire engines.
‘The Fire Authority proposes to cut the number of firefighters by “managed vacancies” from 954 firefighters in December 2008, to an average of 940 during 2008/9, to 920 during 2009/10, to 905 in March 2010.
‘Forty four of those jobs – one in ten of the frontline fire station based crews – would go by changing the way higher reach aerial ladder platforms and rescue tenders are crewed.
‘The impact would be there would not be enough firefighters to crew all appliances, even if they were needed in a 999 emergency.
‘The union has also objected to a number of other changes which it says local managers are trying to impose rather than negotiate.’