London Fire Brigade Union fuming over shift changes
The London Fire Brigade Union (LFBU) went on strike on Saturday October 23 in protest against authorities’ threat to end contracts after five years of negotiations. Two more walk outs are planned on November 1 and Bonfire Night, November 5. They are trying to reach an agreement with the London Fire Commissioner about training and shift changes before a November deadline.
The London Fire Authority took steps to bring negotiations to a close in August by filing for section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992.
As a result, 5,000 firefighters face being sacked if they do not accept new contracts. The proposed changes centre on altering the current nine hour day shift and 15 hour night shift to two 12 hour rotations.
“The shifts haven’t changed in 30 years…no talks are going on about closing stations, we’re just trying to provide more efficient and productive fire safety,” says a London Fire Brigade spokesperson.
Despite the danger to their contracts, fire fighters turned out in force for a march on Saturday which union leaders described as a 100 per cent success. The union claims that the hour extension is a threat to public safety and the personal lives of fire fighters.
“Most fires happen at night so placing less fire fighters on duty at that time is very dangerous,” says Brian Sprung an LFBU organizer.
Norm Perry, 36, a fire fighter at the East London Commercial Road fire station explained, “When this was first put to us we said most of our members can’t work this because of child care…working four 12 hour shifts they can’t physically see their children and they were told if you don’t like it leave.”
During the strikes, privately owned Asset Co provides substitute fire fighters. According to the LFBU they are hired under false pretenses and are severely undertrained. In response to the government’s accusation that striking on Bonfire Night is “reckless”, fire fighter Paul May, 37, said “We will cross our own picket to help. It’s not in our nature to stand by.”