Fire unions spark up row
A WAR of words broke out today after the organisation representing many part-time firefighters pledged to keep on working despite any fire dispute.The Retained Firefighters' Union (RFU) has a no-strike constitution and it said its members would stay on duty whatever happened.
By Paul Geater
A WAR of words has broken out after the organisation representing many part-time firefighters pledged to keep on working despite any fire dispute.
The Retained Firefighters' Union (RFU) has a no-strike constitution and it said its members would stay on duty whatever happened.
Their pledge comes as the larger Fire Brigades Union (FBU) prepares to ballot its members on industrial action – which could start at the end of next month.
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Firefighters at headquarters in Colchester Road took unofficial industrial action on Thursday, answering 999 calls only, as a mark of solidarity with the decision to ballot.
Chris Hayward was one of those firefighters involved. He said: "It is basically a ratification of the decision of the [union] conference. People felt they wanted to do something that shows it's a decision taken on their behalf. People may feel the union is rattles their sabres but the decision has been the firefighters."
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He added: "The action was never started to interrupt the public service. At no point was a member of the public at risk."
The FBU is preparing for the ballot after rejecting a four per cent pay offer from employers – it is seeking a 40 per cent rise, giving a basic salary of £30,000 a year for full-time firefighters.
The FBU is the larger union, and represents retained as well as full-time firefighters.
However an RFU spokesman said today that many part-timers were leaving the FBU to join them.
"We will not strike – we will continue to offer a service to our local communities," he said.
Most rural areas in Suffolk would continue to have fire cover, he added, although RFU members would not be able to provide adequate cover in large towns like Ipswich, Felixstowe, or Bury St. Edmunds.
"About 180 out of 420 retained firefighters in Suffolk are members of the RFU, so we should be able to provide some cover," the spokesman said.
His claims were, however, dismissed by Paul Woolstenholmes from the FBU in Suffolk.
"We call them the RF Who?" He said. "They don't represent many people at all, they just exaggerate everything.
"They're not a real union, they hang along on our coat-tails – they're not involved in negotiations and then take the benefits we win for them."