‘It seems management are hell-bent on taking on the FBU and cutting 120 jobs’, Merseyside Fire Brigades Union Brigade Chairman Mark Dunne told News Line yesterday on the eve of eight days of strike action due to commence today.
Merseyside FBU members are due to strike from 10am today to 10am on 4 September. The next strike will begin two hours later until noon on 8 September.
Dunne added: ‘We can’t afford these cuts. They will endanger firefighters’ lives and will heighten the risk to the public’s lives.’
The government has said army personnel will not be available because of their involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mersey fire chiefs have been retraining managers to man red fire engines and had urged the FBU to strike during ‘low-risk’ hours, instead of four full days from 31 August.
But management’s refusal to negotiate has hardened FBU members’ resolve to fight the cuts.
Dunne told News Line: ‘The strikes look inevitable, there’s still twelve hours to go but management haven’t had serious talks with the union for 35 days.’
An FBU statement on Tuesday night said the strikes ‘follow a three to one vote in favour of a ballot in opposition to a raft of proposed cuts which include:
‘Cutting 120 firefighter posts – one in ten of the workforce – in addition to the 68 posts cut last year;
‘Introducing a 96 hour week at some fire stations;
‘Cutting 15 emergency fire control operator posts – one in four of the workforce;
‘Axing four fire engines at night time;
‘There will be fewer rescue appliances, fewer firefighters on fire engines and a longer wait for crews to arrive at all 999 emergencies.’
Les Skarratts, Merseyside FBU brigade secretary said: ‘These are some of the worst cuts ever proposed in any local fire service and will inevitably damage our operational capability.
‘The planned cuts are ill-thought out panic measures which are the result of failure of financial management.
‘The proposal for a 96-hour shift, where fire crews can’t leave the station, is off the wall and will take us back to the 1930s.
‘Merseyside fire crews do not want to be on strike but managers and councillors refuse to budge from their hardline stance. Talks which have taken place have never amounted to negotiations because they refused to compromise in any way.’
He added: ‘We are prepared to take strike action to defend the public service we have given our working lives to.’
In a circular to members, FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack said FBU Executive Council members and Head Office officials ‘will be in attendance in Merseyside’ for the strike period.
He added: ‘Merseyside Brigade Committee clearly welcome any show of solidarity you may wish to show by sending letters of support both individually and from your branches.
‘Moreover, I am sure many of you will wish to show your solidarity by going to Merseyside throughout this period of strike action and future periods which are called.
‘You are assured of a warm welcome on the picket lines in Merseyside and I urge you to attend if you are able to do so.
‘Details of the Hardship Fund will follow shortly on a separate circular.’