Suggestion over removal of firefighters’ right to strike sparks anger

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Union leaders have reacted angrily to a suggestion that the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered.

In his final assessment of England’s fire and rescue services before leaving his post, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, Sir Thomas Winsor, said they have made improvements in some areas, but more change is “urgently required”.

He said “outdated and ineffective structures” for negotiating pay, terms and conditions are where reform is most needed, which would reduce the risk of industrial action.

“If no progress is made on national reform, then the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered,” said his report.

“If Sir Tom Winsor was serious about improving the fire and rescue service, he might suggest putting back some of the one in every five firefighters which have been cut since 2010.”

Sir Thomas said firefighters and other staff continued to work hard to help their communities, particularly during the pandemic, stressing that the fire and rescue sector has made progress in some areas since the first inspections in 2018.

However, he added: “I am disappointed that the windspeed of national reform has dropped. Although the pandemic has understandably delayed progress, the public cannot wait any longer.

“The efficiency and effectiveness of services is hindered by the continued threat of industrial action, and the removal of firefighters’ right to strike should be considered.

“Another obstacle hampering progress to modernise this important public service is a woeful lack of workforce diversity.

“Responsibility to make these changes does not lie solely with chief fire officers – political leaders and policy makers must also take action and raise the priority of fire reform.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, labelled the suggestion ‘disgraceful’ (PA)

“Many services have told us that the threat can significantly adversely affect their ability to respond to incidents and that it is costly for them to provide contingency arrangements, particularly when, in some cases, resources are already scarce.

“The influence of the Fire Brigades Union is considerable in some services. Sometimes, it goes too far and is contrary to services’ values and behaviours, and to the public interest.

“The outdated and ineffective structures for negotiating pay, terms and conditions are where reform is most needed.”

Mr Wrack said the FBU has attempted to discuss what is expected of the service for more than a decade.

He added: “The response has been endless evasion by Government ministers. To blame firefighters and their union is an outrage and to suggest further undemocratic attacks on the rights of firefighters as workers is disgraceful.”

Fire minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “The State of Fire and Rescue report is instrumental in helping the fire sector and the Government to identify where reforms are needed to make our fire and rescue services the most effective and efficient they can be.

“I am encouraged to see improvements in protection and areas of strong performance, particularly in responding to emergencies and major incidents, but we are committed to constant improvement.

“We will carefully consider the report findings and ensure that those are addressed in our forthcoming White Paper on Fire Reform.”

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