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Southport Reporter

Edition No. 82

Date:- 10 January 2003

It is Started....

Win 4 VIP tickets to Pleasureland 2003.

Fire Dispute Hots Up.
  Photographs by Patrick Trollope.

ON the 7 January 2003 the FBU issued their latest Official Strike Bulletin in reaction to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's statement on the 17 December 2003, when he made it clear, his aim to transform the Fire Service into a modern emergency fire and rescue service saying "The Bain Report is a challenge for all of us - the government, the Fire Authorities and Fire Service personnel. But it is a challenge that the government is determined to meet. The Report provides a fair deal for the firefighters, a fair deal for other workers and a fair deal for the economy." The document issued by the FBC, called "FIREFIGHTER" said:- 

"The Government is pushing ahead with plans to repeal section 19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act. 

The move, via an amendment to the Local Government Bill currently before Parliament, will “place responsibility for the future of the fire service back where it belongs – with local communities”,
John Prescott claimed last month. “Chief fire officers will quickly be able to deploy resources in places most at risk from fire,” he added. 

The only truth in the Deputy Prime Minister’s statements is that under his plans, in the future it will be possible to rapidly downgrade or close down fire stations, without the current consultation. 

The repeal attacks the right of local communities to have their say over the protection of their lives and property. Chief Fire Officers will have similar powers to Chief Constables, who have the right to close stations without consultation. The effects on rural police forces have been devastating.

Also, John Prescott says CFOs will now be responsible for assessing fire risk. But the government’s intervention in this dispute raises serious questions about how this will be done. 
We know the government’s attitude to fire risk: cuts in night shifts, when there is the highest incidence of deaths and injury from fire; introduction of joint control rooms, even though this would lengthen response times; cuts to the workforce by a fifth through natural wastage, even though there is serious short-staffing in many areas of the country. 

Local people, trade unions and firefighters and emergency control room staff, are the best guardians of fire safety in local communities. 

Prescott says that by moving to abolish Section 19, the government it is “playing its part in establishing a modern fire service”. It will do nothing of the sort. Section 19 helps ensure fire safety across the country. It must be defended.

Councillors of Calderdale Council, Halifax, have voted themselves a 43% pay rise, adding £277,000 to the council’s annual wage bill. The leader of the council will receive an additional £24,465, the deputy leader £12,232 and five other cabinet members an extra £9,786. 

Labour councillors reportedly refused to back the increase, but none were cited in the local press as refusing to accept the extra cash. They were also heard complaining that the public misunderstood councillors’ role, workload and responsibilities. Sound familiar?

As for the Tory councillors who pushed through the increase, perhaps they will now lobby Conservative Party head office to change its line and back our entirely reasonable and justified campaign for fair pay? 

I am amazed this dispute has not already been settled. The firefighters and emergency control room operators should be classed as a special case and their dedication and highly skilled professionalism should be recognised and they should be paid accordingly. I feel they should be paid on par with the police – both are dangerous jobs and both are essential to local communities. 

I am over 60 and in my vast experience “modernisation” means loss of jobs and always a much worse service to the public. 

I do not want to be told in the middle of the night that my local fire station is locked up whilst my house burns down and I’ll have to wait longer for appliances to come from further afield. We are not a third world country and we expect a first class professional fire service, which we have at the moment. 

I do not accept the old statement of “there is no money in the kitty”. I look at the millions of pounds, produced at a minute’s notice, on the Gulf War and on MP’s huge pay rises WITHOUT MODERNISATION. I, together with the public at large, am not so naïve. I am one of many of the public who helped to put this New Labour 
Government in power but I am fast losing my patience with its performance. I am 100% with the firefighters. The dispute needs to be settled before the Government loses anymore credibility.

Mrs Margaret Dalton, 
Disillusioned Labour supporter

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, has written to FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist hoping that “progress with the present negotiations for pay and conditions…[is] allowed to proceed without external interference towards a resolution that satisfies both the Fire Service Employers and your members”

Czech nuclear industry workers represented by Enterprise Trade Union Committee of Nuclear Research Institute, Rez, have added their support for the £30k campaign. They have offered to send protest letters to the British Embassy if the Government tries to clamp down on FBU members “democratic right to strike and protest”.

It is with deep regret that the FBU hears of the death of Joe Strummer. The former Clash rock star performed at the FBU benefit gig at Acton town hall, London, in November, helping raise money and awareness for our fair pay campaign. He recently completed a UK tour with his group, Mescaleros. Born August 21, 1952, Strummer died December 22.

The Mount Pleasant International Branch of the Communication Workers Union has donated £600 to the hardship fund.

Apologies to our fire service colleagues in Gibraltar for any suggestion that they are of Spanish, rather than British, nationality (Spanish Rock Solid, Bulletin 23). Qualified to Home Office standards and trained in the UK at Moreton on Marsh and RAF Manston, they are “100%” behind us."  

On the 10 January 2003, they issued yet a  further  press release saying they will be back on the picket lines again.

"Today 100 reps from every FBU brigade across the UK met in the TUC’s Congress House in central London. They heard the report by FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist on the proposed pay offer presented by employers and discussions with John Prescott. The reps were informed of what had already become pretty clear from leaked reports to the press in recent days. 

John Prescott told reporters yesterday that the talks were “useful” (The Guardian, Friday January 10, page 7). The employers complained the government’s position gave them “no freedom to indulge in the usual give and take of pay negotiations”. (Financial Times, Friday January 10, page 2) 

What is clear is that all FBU members are being offered is 4 per cent - and only that if the union commits itself to Bain in its entirety. 

We have already heard from the Deputy Prime Minister that Bain is about thousands of job losses. We are now hearing that there will be no guarantee that there will be no

compulsory redundancies. A major attack on the service is already in the making through an amendment to the Local Government Bill seeking to scrap Section 19. It is currently going through the Westminster parliament and will have a final reading at the end of February. 

This will give Chief Fire Officers virtually a free hand in deciding about the closure of stations and cuts in jobs – so much for democracy, so much for accountability

The additional 7 per cent is dependent on everything in Bain being implemented. The only ones who will decide whether this is the case are the employers, upon advice of the Audit Commission. In addition, no definite date has been set when the 7% would be delivered. In those circumstances, the offer is totally unacceptable to FBU members. 

In the light of the employers’ position and after considering all the options, the reps 
decided that there was no alternative but to push ahead with further industrial action. 
Employers will be informed on Monday that the first such action in 2003 will be on Tuesday 21st January for 24 hours from 09.00 hours. Further dates will be considered by the EC Thursday next week. 

The Executive Committee will continue to work for a negotiated settlement. With good will from the employers and the Government this could be achieved without further industrial action. Unfortunately, however, the employers seem, for now at least, to be prisoners to the Government’s determination to hold down public sector pay and to implement to every last comma the discredited Bain report.

In preparation for further industrial action, it is important that we step up again campaigning among local trade unions, communities, councillors, press and radio/TV networks. Lobbying of councillors and MP’s should be intensified to ram home the our pay demands and the need to preserve comprehensive 24 hour, 7 day fire cover for local communities.

And to be clear, our campaign will centre around the four pillars agreed at conference in May last year.

• A £30,000 wage for Wholetime Professional Firefighters and Emergency Fire Control staff
• Pay parity for Professional Firefighters working the Retained duty system
• Equal Pay for Emergency Fire Control Operators
• A new Pay Formula to maintain these rates for the future.

John McDonald, FBU executive council member for Scotland, has welcomed he Scottish Parliament’s rejection of the repeal of s19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act on Wednesday. “We’re not having Whitehall gagging Scottish communities from having a say in what happens to their fire services. I applaud the MSP’s who made this stand. They sent a very clear message to Government in London and the Labour Party in Scotland.” 

“This was all about giving the green light to slashing fire services in secret. It’s to fast track fire station closures, cuts to the number of fire engines and slashing the number of firefighters. Abolition of s19 is about denying local people the right to be consulted over the cuts programme the Government has already signalled it wants to see. The public have a right to know about cuts in fire services, a right to be consulted and a right to say no” 

On Thursday 16th January Bro Steve Godward’s appeal is being heard by the Appeals Committee of the West Midlands Fire Authority. Bro Steve was dismissed at a summary hearing on 2nd December. The reasons for Bro Steve’s dismissal are “scurrilous”, says Phil Goalby, Brigade Chair, West Midlands. “The real reason is his history of success as an active trades union official. This is an attack on all of us.” Goalby says the West Midlands members are supporting Bro Godward with petitions and a call for a ballot. 

There will be a demonstration at Fire Service Headquarters, Birmingham, on the morning of the appeal. The plan is for a quiet, dignified demonstration: banners only, no whistles or air horns, as recommended by the solicitors. All those wishing to attend should be at Fire Service Headquarters, Lancaster Circus Queensway, Birmingham, from 0900 hrs.

We must also stand by a number of other members who are being disciplined for being loyal to our union, including John Whittaker, Simon Green, Steve Godward, and members in Manchester and Strathclyde.

It is with deep regret we have to report the death of our off-duty member Alex Kent. He died in the early hours of Wednesday in a house fire at Crowborough, East Sussex. 
Early reports show that he initially escaped from the blaze with his parents but re-entered to try and save his brother. Crews from his own station rescued both brothers but unfortunately they were dead on arrival at hospital. Four firefighters were injured at the incident, all requiring hospital care. Further details regarding funeral arrangements to follow."

A Southport officer said "It is just the same problem we have been facing for so long, please will the public keep up their support for us. We can only ask what is next?"

The independent Bain report is the result of a three-month review of the UK fire service can be see by going to IRFS

More information can be seen at:-

Today they issued this statement to the Press.

"To: All members, Dear Brother/Sister

After months of deliberation the employers have outlined an unrealistic and unacceptable offer significantly lower than that which the Government prevented negotiations at the end of November 2002. 

We have now been offered 4% providing we unreservedly sign up to the Bain report. A further 7% will only be offered when the audit commissioned are satisfied that the Bain proposals have been fully implemented. This will not be a 7% for everybody, it will be an average of 7%. Finally, for each of the next four years there will be a 2% reduction in staff year-on-year, which is almost 5,000.

If we are to secure pay justice for all FBU members, this leaves us little alternative but to organise further industrial action. The first such action in 2003 will be Tuesday 21st January for 24 hours from 09.00 hours. Further dates will be considered at the EC meeting on Thursday next and an all members circular will then be issued giving a report of decisions taken at this meeting.

The Executive Committee will continue to work for a negotiated settlement. With good will from the employers and the Government this could be achieved without further industrial action. Unfortunately, however, the employer’s side seems at present to be prisoners to the Government’s determination to hold down public sector pay and to every last comma of the discredited Bain report.

No doubt FBU bodies at all levels will take the appropriate action in preparation for further industrial action. Such action should include the stepping up of campaigning among local trade unions, communities, councillors, press and radio/TV networks. Lobbying of councillors and MP’s should be intensified on pay and the need to preserve comprehensive 24 hour, 7 day fire cover for local communities.

With best wishes for a successful 2003.

Yours sincerely  Andy Gilchrist  General Secretary"
FBU issued on 10 January 2003 

So from Tuesday 21st January for 24 hours from 09.00 hours the Green Goddesses will be on the streets of the UK again.

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Southport Reporter is Trade Mark of Patrick Trollope.   Copyright © Patrick Trollope 2002.