Firefighters right to strike under threat

FBU members marching with Grenfell Tower inferno survivors and supporters on the anniversary of the fire

THE FIRE Brigades Union has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services State of Fire and Rescue 2021 report released yesterday.

The report includes an attack on firefighters’ right to democratically organise, including a recommendation to consider removing firefighters’ right to strike. It also criticises the pace of change in the fire and rescue service.

The report comes against a backdrop of steep cuts in the number of firefighters. Since 2010, one in every five firefighters has been cut from the service.

Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for fire and police services, setting out his annual report on the fire service yesterday, cited examples of protracted negotiations over new working practices delaying by three months the deployment of firefighters to help vulnerable people during the pandemic.

He said: ‘The efficiency and effectiveness of services is hindered by the continued threat of industrial action, and the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered.’

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘It is not clear how removing firefighters’ rights to democratically organise would help keep the public safer – in fact, having a fair structure where employers and employees can come together to work through issues, helps protect public safety.

‘If Sir Tom Winsor was serious about improving the fire and rescue service he might suggest putting back some of the one in every five firefighters which have been cut since 2010.

‘The criticism of the pace of change in the fire and rescue service lies at the door of central government. For more than a decade, the FBU has attempted to discuss what is expected of the service.

‘The response has been endless evasion by government ministers. To blame firefighters and their union is an outrage and to suggest further undemocratic attacks on the rights of firefighters as workers is disgraceful.

‘Support for collective bargaining is shared across the fire and rescue service, and to suggest otherwise is at best disingenuous, and at worst a lie, making his recommendations untenable and unsupported by evidence.

‘The conclusions reached on the role of the union are simply Winsor’s own opinions. He has a track record, across sectors, of attacking workers and the role of unions in line with what we can presume to be his own political beliefs.

‘By stating views that even fire and rescue employers do not share, Tom Winsor is demonstrating his lack of understanding of the fire and rescue service. Sadly, the work of the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services is hampered by this lack of understanding and we are pleased this will be his last report.’

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