Firefighters and fire service staff in areas bordering Wigan are set to take industrial action

Communities bordering Wigan are to be affected by fire service industrial action which could go on for six months.
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Merseyside firefighters, control staff and green book staff (non-uniformed staff) have “overwhelmingly” voted to take action short of strike in relation to a “host of issues” they have with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

The percentage of those voting who voted “Yes” to Action Short of Strike was 88.06 and it will consist of a refusal to undertake pre-arranged overtime, beginning no earlier than Thursday December 1 and potentially lasting through to next summer.

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Areas near Wigan which will be affected include Billinge, Garswood and Haydock.

The action will not involving going on strikeThe action will not involving going on strike
The action will not involving going on strike

The ballot came after a breakdown in industrial relations between Merseyside Fire Brigades Union and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and the failure to reach agreement on several issues.

The Merseyside ballot and subsequent action is separate from any national ballot or action which may take place in relation to pay.

The issues which have led to the successful ballot for action short of strike are:

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The imposed reduction in night-time staffing numbers in Merseyside Fire Control Room from the agreed level of 6 to 5.

The introduction of new duty shift systems - the FBU says this has happened without negotiation - which essentially require new firefighters to work both wholetime and retained and breach nationally agreed terms and conditions in relation to overtime rates of pay.

The non-agreed expansion of the firefighter role in contracts for all new entrants.

Firefighter apprentices being required to attend the workplace outside of core hours to undertake training sessions, assessments, charity days and exams.

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Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Merseyside managers and the fire authority are displaying an astounding level of arrogance. They are ignoring nationally agreed procedures which are designed to resolve local issues.

"These procedures are designed to stop disputes escalating to this sort of level. Fire and Rescue Service managers and Fire Authority councillors must immediately meet with FBU union representatives to resolve this situation before it deteriorates further.”

Ian Hibbert, Fire Brigades Union Merseyside Brigade Secretary, said: “Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services’ continued refusal to abide by locally and nationally agreed negotiation procedures has left Merseyside FBU members with little choice but to ballot for action short of strike. FBU members do not take industrial action lightly, but we can no longer stand by as our terms and conditions of service are attacked and eroded.

“The overwhelming result of this ballot should not come as a surprise to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. Merseyside FBU members and officials have been clear from the outset that the continued intransigence displayed by service managers and elected members of the Fire Authority would result in industrial action once again taking place in Merseyside.

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"Throughout this process, FBU Officials have made representations to our Labour led Fire Authority requesting that they intercede on behalf of our members. Unfortunately, those requests have gone unanswered.

“This dispute is not about an unwillingness to embrace change, or new ways of working.

"It is about ensuring that moving forward Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority honour our nationally agreed terms and conditions of service and treat all FBU members fairly.

"We cannot emphasise enough the strength of feeling shared by all Merseyside FBU members, that even in the face of potential national strike action over pay, we are willing to take action locally to defend the terms and conditions fought for by those who came before us.”

A Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “We are disappointed at the outcome of the FBU ballot on local industrial action but we will not meet any demands which could result in less fire engines, less fire stations, slower response times or fewer staff in our control rooms overall.

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“Cessation of the day crewing duty (DCWTR) and hybrid duty systems would lead to an immediate reduction in fire engine availability, potentially taking our current numbers from 31 to 20 (if we reverted all duty systems back to the only one the FBU agree with) which would ultimately lead to the closure of fire stations. The public may recall it was these changes which prevented Liverpool City and Wallasey Fire Station closing overnight.

“The changes to the staffing in our fire control room have actually led to an increase in the numbers of staff employed - moving from 32 to 33 Fire Control Officers with immediate effect, with a further 2 posts built into the model for operational resilience during periods of high demand.

“The changes, introduced following extensive consultation with staff and the public, are based on the demands placed on the Service. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is twice as busy during the day than it is at night, so the changes have actually resulted in an increase in staff available during the day and a decrease at night when there are less calls. Resilience has been built into the model to ensure the Service can respond to all types of incident (day or night) as staffing can be increased by alerting retained control operators should demand increase (staff are paid 10 per cent on top of their normal salary for this commitment and they are paid for any additional hours worked).

“This very much mirrors the DCWTR/Hybrid arrangements on fire stations, in effect the Service will be able to increase the number of personnel in the control room to meet an anticipated or immediate operational demand on the Service, whilst allowing for more training and exercising to take place. The introduction of the Station Manager role (which constitutes an increase in control numbers) with specific responsibility for the management of the control room will ensure Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is able to respond to all foreseeable risk.

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“No member of Fire Control staff or operational staff has been compelled to accept new terms and conditions of employment. No-one has or will be required to change their contract of employment because of the revisions to the operating model.

“With regards to contractual changes elsewhere, we don’t agree that these are a non-agreed expansion of the firefighter role. The contracts of employment to which the FBU ballot makes reference have been in place since 2016. The contracts capture the Service’s response to flooding, terrorism and medical intervention, notably when asked to assist by our other emergency services, but this has always been the case.

“The upshot of this action short of strike will be the unplanned loss of fire engine availability, which would ordinarily be offset by the use of overtime.

“The action will also affect staff who use/have used pre-planned overtime to minimise the impact of the cost of living crisis on them and their families and whilst the Chief Fire Officer met with MPs last week to commence a lobby of government to secure better funding, including better pay for all staff, we know it won’t come soon enough, if at all, so we question the legitimacy of this action, particularly at this time.

“We know there may also be some effects on our work in the community but we are already putting in arrangements to mitigate it and in doing so protect the most vulnerable.

“We remain committed to constructive dialogue with all our representative bodies, which puts our communities first.”

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