Union action could put lives at risk

October 26, 2010 1:07 PM

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has announced a 47 hour strike action in London starting on bonfire night. The union hopes to quash the plans to change shift patterns of 5,500 fire fighters by causing maximum impact on the public by withdrawing labour during such a key time.


The change would end the two 9-hour day-shifts followed by two 15-hour night-shifts that firefighters currently follow. And instead firefighters would work two 12-hour day-shifts followed by two 12-hour night-shifts, with four days off, to allow more time for daytime community fire prevention work.


Matt Wrack, General secretary of the FBU, said: “We do not want to take this action but we have no choice. The alternative is to allow London’s firefighters to become doormats for their employers to walk on.”


But the FBU have purposely made a drastic choice to strike on the day when the public are at the greatest risk from fire related incidents. And over what? Shift patterns. It’s a gross overreaction. As MP Nadhim Zahawi, a member of Parliament’s All Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group, said: “They are endangering the lives of people for the sake of a change to their shift patterns.”


Striking to cause maximum impact by blatantly disregarding public safety – the public that fund the firemen to provide a service – does little to further the union’s grievances over reform. If anything it strengthens the case for banning strike action in services where public safety is put at risk if it’s not delivered, as is the case with police forces.

Of course there needs to be workplace representation to ensure that employees are not exploited. But strike action was never meant to be taken so that people’s lives are put in danger over minor changes to working practices.

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has announced a 47 hour strike action in London starting on bonfire night. The union hopes to quash the plans to change shift patterns of 5,500 fire fighters by causing maximum impact on the public by withdrawing labour during such a key time.


The change would end the two 9-hour day-shifts followed by two 15-hour night-shifts that firefighters currently follow. And instead firefighters would work two 12-hour day-shifts followed by two 12-hour night-shifts, with four days off, to allow more time for daytime community fire prevention work.


Matt Wrack, General secretary of the FBU, said: “We do not want to take this action but we have no choice. The alternative is to allow London’s firefighters to become doormats for their employers to walk on.”


But the FBU have purposely made a drastic choice to strike on the day when the public are at the greatest risk from fire related incidents. And over what? Shift patterns. It’s a gross overreaction. As MP Nadhim Zahawi, a member of Parliament’s All Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group, said: “They are endangering the lives of people for the sake of a change to their shift patterns.”


Striking to cause maximum impact by blatantly disregarding public safety – the public that fund the firemen to provide a service – does little to further the union’s grievances over reform. If anything it strengthens the case for banning strike action in services where public safety is put at risk if it’s not delivered, as is the case with police forces.

Of course there needs to be workplace representation to ensure that employees are not exploited. But strike action was never meant to be taken so that people’s lives are put in danger over minor changes to working practices.

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