Union chief in the firing line

ON the day the first firefighter's strike for 25 years ended, Carl Francis took time out to tackle some of the burning issues facing the strikers.Assistant Divisional Officer Francis, officer section secretary for the FBU, is all too aware of the concerns of The Evening Star readers.

ON the day the first firefighter's strike for 25 years ended, Carl Francis took time out to tackle some of the burning issues facing the strikers.

Assistant Divisional Officer Francis, officer section secretary for the FBU, is all too aware of the concerns of The Evening Star readers.

And while stressing firefighters still want to serve the people of Suffolk, he warned they are prepared for a long, drawn-out strike.

ADO Francis spoke to JON TUNNEY.

ARE YOU PREPARED FOR MONTHS ON THE PICKET LINE IF THE STAND-OFF CONTINUES?

Yes. We hope it is a short strike because we would like to see a negotiated settlement. But we are prepared to continue our strike in order to achieve an appropriate pay settlement.

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HOW WILL YOU REACT TO RETAINED FIREFIGHTERS WHO WORK THROUGH YOUR STRIKE?

We would have preferred all firefighters to support the pay claim. Everyone is entitled to consider their own position and although we would rather they supported us, we accept and respect their position.

YOU VOTED 9-1 FOR STRIKE ACTION, BUT HOW WILL YOU FEEL STANDING BY AND WATCHING WHILE FIRES ARE FOUGHT BY PEOPLE NOT PROPERLY TRAINED TO DO IT?

We are concerned that the military personnel are not providing a level of service this community deserves. We would rather we were still serving the people of Suffolk. We are part of this community and it's our family and friends that are receiving this inferior service. We hope for a settlement as soon as possible.

CAN THE STRIKE SURVIVE A COLLAPSE IN PUBLIC SUPPORT THAT MIGHT FOLLOW A DEATH AS A DIRECT RESULT OF INDUSTRIAL ACTION?

Any loss of life or injury is a great concern to us all. We hope the public understands the reasons for our action and we can continue to rely on their support.

DO YOU BELIEVE THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYERS WHEN THEY SAY THERE IS NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY FOR A 40 PER CENT RISE?

No. Politicians awarded themselves a 40 per cent rise and firefighters, along with other public sector workers, are due a substantial increase.

YOU SAID YOU WERE INSULTED BY THE 11 PC PAY OFFER, WHAT FIGURE DO YOU THINK COULD RE-START NEGOTIATIONS?

A figure would not be needed just to restart negotiations. We would be brought back to the table by a genuine willingness to discuss the issues.

TAKING INTO ACCOUNT YOUR SHIFT SYSTEM, JOB SECURITY AND PENSION PLAN, DO YOU AGREE WITH THE INDEPENDENT PAY COMMISSION THAT £21,000 IS A DECENT WAGE FOR THE JOB YOU DO?

The observation by Sir George Bain was ridiculous. Firefighters work long hours, do a difficult and technically demanding job that is often emotionally challenging. We deserve professional pay for a professional job. For a firefighter to leave this job after 30 years on £21,000 is ridiculous.

IF YOU WERE OFFERED A NICE, SAFE OFFICE JOB FOR £30,000, STARTING TOMORROW, WOULD YOU TAKE IT?

No. It's a very good job and one I hope to do for the rest of my life.

HOW MANY OF YOUR MATES EARN MORE THAN £30,000 A YEAR?

I have a lot of friends who earn more than £30,000. I didn't go to university, but I did do A-levels. Some of my friends went to university and now get management pay for the training they have received. We deserve the same professional pay.

WOULD YOU PREFER A £30,000 OFFER WITH THE CONDITION THAT THE WATCH SYSTEM WAS DISMANTLED, OR £25,000 UNDER CURRENT CONDITIONS?

We expect our union negotiators to negotiate an appropriate pay settlement that protects the quality service we provide.

IS THE BUZZ OF THE JOB MORE OR LESS IMPORTANT THAN WHAT'S IN YOUR PAY PACKET AT THE END OF THE MONTH?

There's the anticipation of not knowing what you're getting called out to and we do enjoy that aspect of it. But there's the economic reality that most of us have families to support and that makes them equally important.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO A YOUNG PERSON WHO WAS THINKING ABOUT JOINING THE SERVICE?

The fire service is still a good career. It's a job you can take pride in. But, unfortunately, we are concerned that our current pay does not reflect the job we do.

DO YOU THINK THE FIRE SERVICE NEEDS MODERNISING AND, IF SO, IN WHAT WAY?

Yes, I do think it needs modernising. The FBU has been forceful in a number of modernising initiatives. We would consider any initiatives the employers bring forward if there is no reduction in the current level of service we provide.

HOW SPECIALISED HAS YOUR JOB BECOME SINCE THE LAST FIRE STRIKE?

It has changed dramatically. The appliances and equipment are far more technically demanding. We have to handle hydraulic cutting equipment, advanced medical equipment and line and water rescue equipment. Our turntable ladders are worth more than £300,000 and they are controlled by computer systems that firefighters need to use in order to use them correctly.

HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE SECOND JOBS AND WOULD YOU BE PREPARED TO GIVE THEM UP FOR A PAY RISE?

As an officer, I don't have the time for a second job. Many shift firefighters with families have to have a second job in order to make ends meet. I am sure many of them would like the opportunity to leave the second job to spend time with their families.

DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY REASONABLE CHANCE OF GETTING 40 Per cent?

We believe we can justify the claim for £30,000. We have done this through a study of the job of a firefighter and it can be justified in comparison with other workers.

IF YOU GOT THE FULL WHACK, WOULD YOU SUPPORT PARAMEDICS, POLICE, NURSES, DOCTORS, TEACHERS AND OTHER PUBLIC SERVANTS IN A STRIKE FOR A PAY RISE?

As trade unionists, we would support claims for an appropriate level of pay made by any other group of workers.

HOW DO YOU THINK FIREFIGHTERS COMPARE WITH POLICE IN TERMS OF PAY AND HOW THEY ARE PERCEIVED BY THE PUBLIC?

Firefighters earn considerably less than police officers. But the police do a very difficult job and may deserve a higher level of pay themselves. Our pay campaign is not about comparing ourselves with other jobs, but about an appropriate level of pay for the job we do. The police don't always achieve the same level of public approval that we do.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE WOMEN AND ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE FIRE SERVICE AND DO YOU THINK THE WATCH SYSTEM PUTS THEM OFF?

The FBU supports the employers' attempts to achieve a workforce that reflects the communities we serve. It has been suggested that the shift system deters some of these groups and this needs to be looked at.

IF A FIRE STARTED IN THE HOUSE ACROSS THE ROAD, WOULD YOU LEAVE THE PICKET LINES TO TACKLE IT?

It's a very emotional issue. We would have to judge each set of circumstances individually.

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