Firefighters tell of fears

AS FIREFIGHTERS work normally for four days before starting their next eight-day strike, their local union leader has spoken about their fears.Union members believe moves to axe thousands of jobs and add to the crews' workloads will have a "serious impact" on the service in Suffolk.

By Richard Cornwell

AS FIREFIGHTERS work normally for four days before starting their next eight-day strike, their local union leader has spoken about their fears.

Union members believe moves to axe thousands of jobs and add to the crews' workloads will have a "serious impact" on the service in Suffolk.

FBU secretary Paul Woolstenholmes said it was not known yet what the direct effect would be and many firefighters were fearing the worse.

"You cannot axe 11,000 jobs without there being a serious impact on the way the service is run – it will have an impact on control, retained, and full-time officers," said Mr Woolstenholmes.

"It doesn't matter where you are in the country it is going to effect you. There will be less firefighters having to do everything the service currently does, and in addition there will be shift changes and extra work, such as being paramedics.

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"This has been the government's aim all the way along and it is why they have stepped in to this dispute at this stage.

"There is no way we can shed 20 per cent of the force through natural wastage and have the same force – it's not on."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott raised the prospect of job cuts earlier this week when he said that 20pc of the services' workforce was due to retire in the next two to three years.

This, he said, provided "ample opportunity" to discuss "the utilisation of labour without redundancies or sackings".

Mr Woolstenholmes said that crews had already taken on an increasing workload in recent years – such as health and safety work, fire safety advice, covering road accidents – with no growth in the service budget to compensate.

The government had also carried out a £1.8 million review of the fire service and the final report of which has been shelved without explanation.

"The aim of the review, which looked at a variety of different brigades across the country, was to decimate the fire service," he said.

"It actually would have recommended though a doubling of the size of the service – already renowned as the most consistently highest performing public sector service – in the UK and would have caused embarrassing implications for the government."

Although firefighters are working normally today and tomorrow, they are due to walk out again for another eight-day strike on Wednesday morning and their seems little prospect of it being avoided.

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