Thursday 12 August 2010
London's entire firefighting force have been told they'll be sacked if they refuse to go along with cuts to night cover.
The capital's 5,000 firefighters were given 90 days' notice on Wednesday night by the London Fire Authority.
It wants to impose drastically altered shifts with longer days and shorter nights which unions warn will leave fewer fire engines and staff protecting the capital.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson wrote to the government and Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leader Matt Wrack to tell them the authority was opening consultation on "terminating the contracts of these staff and offering to re-engage them on new contracts of employment."
But the FBU accused the authority of behaving like "Victorian mill owners" and Mr Wrack insisted his union would "fight the disgraceful attack every step of the way."
The union also raised fears that bosses would retaliate against any industrial action with a strike-breaking "dad's army."
Executive council member Ian Leahair said members will be balloted for action short of strike immediately, with the possibility of a city-wide strike at the end of October if the authority does not rescind its threat.
During the last major firefighters' dispute in 2002-3, the strikers were covered by soldiers using the ageing Green Goddess appliances, which have since been retired.
But this time, Mr Leahair said, the authority planned to call on privateer Assetco - which leases fire engines to the London Fire Brigade - to "roll out the red fire engines" crewed by a "dad's army of retained firefighters and security contractors" given only three weeks' training.
Mr Dobson delivered the ultimatum amid negotiations with the FBU on the fire authority's plan to change the shift pattern from two nine-hour days and two 15-hour nights to a flat 12-hour shift.
Mr Wrack was bemused by the decision to provoke firefighters while talks were still going on.
"We and the principal management of the London Fire Brigade do have a real disagreement about the way forward in difficult economic times, but until yesterday we were talking about it constructively, and I hoped to reach an agreement both sides could live with," said the FBU leader."The chances of that agreement have diminished dramatically this morning."
The negotiations had already been put under immense strain in the last few months.
In March a leaked document put the lie to bosses' claims that the shift changes were not about cutting night cover.
It said the scheme would offer "a capability to withdraw personnel from night shift" and "the removal of 10 appliances."
And last month Mr Dobson let slip on his blog that he would seek "termination of employment" for all London firefighters if there was not a "negotiated settlement."
Mr Leahair said: "This coalition government is totally hell bent on breaking the public sector to benefit the private sector.
"The FBU urge the fire authority to think again and withdraw the threats of mass sackings and get back round the table to avert any unnecessary industrial action."