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Fire crews refuse to take strike action

PUBLISHED: 19:00 30 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:45 03 March 2010

A DRAMATIC split emerged today in the Fire Brigades Union in Suffolk after a whole section quit rather than take strike action.

The Evening Star has learned that, in an unprecedented move, 16 control room staff at fire service headquarters in Ipswich have resigned from the union.

A DRAMATIC split emerged today in the Fire Brigades Union in Suffolk after a whole section quit rather than take strike action.

The Evening Star has learned that, in an unprecedented move, 16 control room staff at fire service headquarters in Ipswich have resigned from the union.

They tore up their membership cards because they were not prepared to take action which could put lives – or property – at risk.

The fire service employs 22 people in its control room, so the decision effectively means that 999 calls should be answered as normal despite any dispute.

How they are dealt with, however, remains uncertain as balloting for strike action over a 40 per cent pay claim continues.

Elsewhere there were claims today that the ballot nationally could be declared invalid because of intimidation by union officials.

A spokesman for the local government employers' organisation, which has been negotiating with the union, said any suggestion that union members should fill in ballot papers collectively amounted to threats of intimidation.

"If that happens, the whole ballot could be declared invalid. We expect the process to be fully monitored by the Electoral Reform Society," said a spokesman for the employers.

Suffolk's FBU secretary, Paul Woolstoneholmes, confirmed today that all its members in the control room had resigned from the union.

But he claimed that several were now thinking of changing their minds and returning to the union.

"I have never known a whole department to quit before," he said. "I think they have come under a great deal of pressure and I understand some are reconsidering their position."

Mr Woolstoneholmes again denied that any members of the union had been pressured into filling in their ballot papers collectively, despite a suggestion in an FBU memo that they might like to do that.

"Some watches have said they want to do that to show their solidarity for the action – but they are under no pressure from the union," he said.

And the union said a leaflet sent by employers to the homes of all firefighters urging a no vote was applying yet more pressure.

Suffolk's chief fire officer Malcolm Allcock has written to firefighters to put his views on the dispute.

He said: "No one values the personnel in Suffolk or the work they do higher than I do.

"The current pay formula does not reflect the current skills and levels of competence of the modern qualified fire-fighter."

"I know the anxiety and stress that is caused when people find it necessary to take strike action so it is my earnest hope that these issues can be resolved without the need for strike action

"On the question of any future strike. I hope it does not come to that, however I recognise the validity of the current trade dispute and that members of the FBU may well want to take part in lawful industrial action.

"I recognise that members of the union will want to exercise their vote in accordance with their own beliefs and principles.

"But once the results announced I expect that members will take whatever lawful action their union calls.

"I expect all staff whatever their status to be treated with fairness and dignity.

"I will not put pressure on any member of staff on strike to work nor will taking part in such action, in itself, have any effect on future career prospects.

"I will not ask any member of staff to carry out work normally carried out by striking staff."

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