Warning as fire strike starts

AS SUFFOLK firefighters went on strike again today, there was a warning that rule changes could lead to service cuts at a whim.They are concerned that changes being introduced by the government will make it easier to close fire stations and cut staff.

AS SUFFOLK firefighters went on strike again today, there was a warning that rule changes could lead to service cuts at a whim.

They are concerned that changes being introduced by the government will make it easier to close fire stations and cut staff.

The government plans to change Section 19 of the Fire Service Act – which means all major decisions to close stations or cut staff – have to be approved by a minister.

Under changes proposed in the Bain Report into the fire service, these decisions could be taken by senior officers.


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"This is the political equivalent of using a poacher to guard the pheasant run," one striking firefighter told The Evening Star.

"While there have been some reasonable industrial relations with principal officers, in 18 years I cannot recall a single instance where a chief, deputy chief, or assistant chief fire officer has publicly disputed employers' proposed cuts to front line services," he said.

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In Suffolk, firefighters left their stations to mount picket lines at 9am today, and they are not due back at work until Thursday morning.

Another 48-hour strike is due to start on Saturday morning.

The walkout came after the executive of the Fire Brigades' Union decided that the 48-hour strike would go ahead.

There had been speculation that the action could be suspended to allow the negotiations to be held.

But Andy Gilchrist, the union's general secretary, said the government and employers still wanted the union to agree a modernisation programme which he said would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs.

Mr Gilchrist said after a meeting of the union's executive: "As long as the government and employers hold to that position, this dispute will continue.

"Firefighters regret the decision today but feel they have no alternative because the government and employers are continuing to implement their agenda regardless of negotiations.

"That agenda will mean many thousands of job losses."

Union leaders held several hours of talks with employers under the chairmanship of the conciliation service, Acas, last week but it was clear that little progress was made.

A spokesman for the Office of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he was "disappointed" that the strike was going ahead and added: "Strike action is completely unjustified and unacceptable.

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