War of Words in Fire Dispute

Both sides, in the on going Fire Service industrial dispute, accused each other of jeopardising final talks as both Chief Fire Officer David Johnson and Essex Fire Brigades Union leaders slammed each other by releasing press statements accusing the other party of withdrawal.

CFO Johnson in a letter addressed to the union says “It is clear that there is no desire for the FBU in Essex to engage with the (Essex fire and Rescue) Service to develop a mature and progressive industrial relations climate” and accuses the FBU of wanting “to maintain an environment of confrontation.” .

Meanwhile the Union stated “We were amazed today to receive a splenetic letter from Mr Johnson” says FBU brigade secretary for Essex Keith Flynn. “It breaks off negotiations, withdraws his offer which is currently on the table, and directs bitter abuse at the union. We are sure Mr Johnson will want to rethink his attitude in a calmer frame of mind.”

The Fire Authority proposed to cut the number of firefighters by “managed vacancies” from 954 firefighters in December 2008, to an average of 940 during 2008/9, to 920 during 2009/10, to 905 in March 2010.

Forty four of those jobs – one in ten of the frontline fire station based crews – have gone by changing the way higher reach aerial ladder platforms and rescue tenders are crewed. The impact is that there would not be enough firefighters to crew all appliances, even if they were needed in a 999 emergency.

The union has also objected to a number of other changes which it says local managers are trying to impose rather than negotiate.

The Service is to initiate the first stages of its strike contingency plan – Operation Gian – to ensure Essex communities remain safe should the FBU escalate it’s industrial action following rejection of our final offer yesterday.
DCFO Gordon Hunter has today initiated the first phase of Operation Gian which includes refresher fire appliance driver training and breathing apparatus training for all officers and he will be seeking expressions of interest from support staff willing to train to category two incident response.
A Gian exercise will also begin to ensure that should they be necessary, plans to provide resilience throughout the County will operate effectively.

“Having rejected a very generous and fair offer that was constructed in conjunction with the FBU negotiating team but rejected by the FBU Committee, it now seems highly likely that the FBU will carry out their threat to escalate it’s action. I will now be concentrating Service Delivery efforts on ensuring the safety of Essex. We will use all resources available to us to ensure the best possible protection for our communities,” he said.
“That means training volunteers from our non-uniformed staff, if necessary, and making sure our officers are refreshed with their breathing apparatus training and fire appliance response driving.. That way we will keep our appliances on the run, whatever the FBU decides to do. We will not allow the safety of our Essex communities to be held to ransom by a minority of belligerent FBU activists.
“They have not behaved rationally throughout the last seven months, so we have to prepare for the worst case scenario.

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