The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has laid down a hard deadline to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service in a bid to avert strike action.
In a letter addressed to Merseyside Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack has set September 12 as a deadline for negotiations regarding working conditions.
If the dispute has not been resolved by that date, the FBU will meet to consider calling strike and action short of a strike.
The letter follows the results of two ballots this week, which delivered an “overwhelming mandate” for industrial action following a serious break down in industrial relations.
Merseyside fire control members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action, with 100% voting in favour on a 92% turnout, responding to an imposed reduction in night-time staffing numbers in Merseyside Fire Control Room from the agreed level of six to five, and the requirement for some members to work a duty shift system that was never subject to negotiation with the FBU.
Firefighters across Merseyside, as well as FBU non-uniformed staff members, have also voted to continue action short of strike with 82% voting yes on a 71% turnout in response to non-negotiated changes to terms and conditions of service. This action will involve firefighters and green book members of staff refusing to undertake pre-arranged overtime.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary said, “Fire control staff and firefighters in Merseyside returned an overwhelming mandate for strike and action short of strike this week. These results are testament to the determination of firefighters in Merseyside to defend their fire service, and their depth of feeling.
“We have sent a clear message to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Authority. We are confident that FBU industrial action in Merseyside will be rock solid, and we have given the employers a 20-day window in good faith to settle this dispute before strike action or other industrial action becomes necessary. The ball is in their court.”
Ian Hibbert, Fire Brigades Union Merseyside brigade secretary, added, “Merseyside fire control staff and firefighters smashed through ballot thresholds this week, delivering a huge mandate for industrial action. Our members care deeply about protecting their service from attacks on working conditions.
“They are prepared to take action if employers do not start treating them with the respect they deserve. During this dispute, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has continued to refuse to abide by locally and nationally agreed negotiation procedures. We are here, waiting to negotiate in good faith.
“Our employers have until September 12 to meet us and avoid strikes.”
In response, a Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said, “While we welcome the offer to delay any proposed industrial action, we have also been clear throughout that will not meet any demands which could result in the public receiving a poorer service i.e. less fire engines, less fire stations, slower response times or fewer staff in our control rooms overall.
“That said, we remain optimistic that a resolution can be reached locally particularly as we have proposed further improvements for our Fire Control staffing arrangements which we hope will be sufficient to avoid industrial action whilst continuing to protect the public through the best use of our resources.”
The spokesperson added no member of fire control staff or operational staff have been compelled to accept new terms and conditions of employment. The statement said: “No one has or will be required to change their contract of employment because of the revisions to the operating model.
“We remain committed to constructive dialogue with all our representative bodies, dialogue which puts our communities first. We are due to meet with the Fire Brigades Union on Tuesday and will continue to do so, we have also suggested that those discussions could include the national officials of the FBU as was the case when the contracts were discussed some years earlier.”