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Intimidation fears as balloting starts

PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 March 2010

FIREFIGHTERS start voting today on whether to take industrial action over their pay claim, as a Suffolk union leader denied intimidation was being used.

FIREFIGHTERS start voting today on whether to take industrial action over their pay claim, as a Suffolk union leader denied intimidation was being used.

Paul Woolstenholmes, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said no one was trying to pressure members into voting for industrial action.

His comments came after The Evening Star was sent a copy of a memo sent by Mr Woolstenholmes to fire teams across the county.

The memo explained how the ballot would take place, but Mr Woolstenholmes made it clear that he was not happy about having to run it.

"The ballot process is part of the legal requirements designed to slow up, bind up, interfere with, and stop our members taking strike action according to their own timetable," he said.

However the memo concluded: "Monitoring mechanisms need to be set up to establish that members have received and returned their ballot papers (with a yes vote).

"It is worth considering whether whole watches can meet to collectively fill in their ballot paper."

The memo was sent to The Evening Star anonymously by someone who had a copy.

The covering note said: "If you thought that the imminent ballot for industrial action was going to be democratic, fair and free from 'Bully Boy' tactics, please see the attached.

"The letter may or may not fall foul of trade union legislation, however the inference is clear and certainly falls outside the spirit of a secret ballot."

The ballot is being organised on behalf of the FBU by the Electoral Reform Society.

A spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society was disturbed to hear that members of the union were being urged to consider filling in ballot papers together.

"We send out ballot papers to members' homes precisely to prevent the risk of intimidation - it is very disturbing to hear about this.

"If members are worried it is something they should take up with the union and we will discuss the problem with them."

Mr Woolstenholmes said today that he had sent the memo, but denied that it was encouraging intimidation.

"Many watches have said they want to fill in their ballot papers together as a mark of solidarity," he said.

"The union wants members to vote in favour of industrial action, but members are free to do what they want - throw them away, turn them into paper aeroplanes, whatever.

"There's no way we are forcing anyone to fill in their ballot with other people - its just that some people want to do it that way," Mr Woolstenholmes said.

nWhat do you think of the fire dispute? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN. Or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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