Plans to greatly improve public safety by offering incentivised ‘no strike’ contracts for key groups of firefighters were approved by Essex Fire Authority today (Wednesday).
The move is designed to guarantee public safety in the face of the increased likelihood of industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union.
Members of the Fire Authority’s Policy and Strategy Committee gave the initiative their full backing at a meeting on Wednesday. EFA Chairman, Councillor Anthony Hedley said this was a sensible move designed to deliver certainty to ECFRS’ service delivery in uncertain times. He praised senior managers for acting swiftly following the recent high profile dispute in London and said this was a decision the public would expect elected members to make on their behalf.
Explaining the move to elected members, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter said that ECFRS will be put under increased budgetary pressures over the coming months and years and that the Service clearly understands the challenges this creates.
He said that while ECFRS would be looking to do more with less, its management team was committed to continuing to deliver a first-class service to the public and driving through efficiency and improvement while still achieving savings.
“The significance of the Service’s role in responding to local emergencies, terrorist incidents and the like and ultimately in saving life, can never be under estimated,” he said.
“The potential of the London Olympics 2012 being targeted as a key time to initiate industrial action would put the Service under increased scrutiny and increased pressure to ensure resources are available. We also cannot ignore the fact that the there is also a probable, increased risk of local and national industrial action in response to measures instigated following the Comprehensive Spending Review.
“Frustratingly, as the recent events in London have shown, there continues to be a reluctance from the Fire Brigades Union to adopt a flexible approach towards accepting the reality of the economic climate and working with us to meet these challenges.
“Our principal managers have always tried hard and will continually strive towards building a professional and productive partnership approach with the unions but to date the FBU has remained entrenched in maintaining the status quo. Against this background, we need to ensure that should the worse happen and the current 14-month dispute is escalated, we can protect families living in Essex. That’s what these new arrangements are designed to do.”
ECFRS already has a robust ‘strike plan’ in place called Contingency Plan Operation Gian. This new move is designed to bolster current arrangements.
The resilience contracts will offer enhanced pay to those firefighters, control staff and officers willing to guarantee their availability in serious times of need such as strike action. Signing up to these contracts will be voluntary and the next step will be to solicit expressions of interest from key work groups.
“Essex Fire Authority is clear that nothing will detract from the Service achieving its primary role in preventing the loss of life,” said EFA Vice Chairman, Councillor Kevin Bentley. “The resilience contract will hopefully ensure that even in the most challenging of situations, we can rely on our own professional firefighters and officers to be there for the people of Essex when they need them most.
“The Service is absolutely committed to doing all it can to deter industrial action – especially strike action – in the first place. But this will not be at the cost of fair and effective changes to the way the Service does its business and for this reason we will support senior management in delivering its legal and moral responsibilities and doing all it can to strengthen its contingency planning for any event that threatens to significantly deplete staff availability, whatever the cause may be.
“The Fire Authority truly believes that the majority of ECFRS’ uniformed and support staff will rise to the challenges ahead because of their dedication and their can do attitude but we cannot ignore the fact that with all that is going on in the public sector right now there is increased risk of industrial action which is why we are acting now to protect services.”
We are waiting for the Fire Brigades Union Response