Yesterday, a political row broke out because London’s 5,600 firefighters announced they would escalate their strike action unless the London Fire Brigade withdrew letters sacking all of them. The union decided to call its London members out on strike from 10 am on November 5 to 9 am on November 7. Speaking on the Today programme, General Secretary, Matt Wrack criticised London fire brigade officials for “a return to Victorian mill-owner industrial relations.” Mr Wrack said he “completely understood” the public’s concern over impending strikes, but insisted action could be averted if fire bosses relented.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson described the FBU’s action as “a reckless and cynical walkout…and the public would not think that this is a responsible way of conducting industrial action.” Ed Miliband’s office added that firefighter strike on bonfire night would be “dangerous” and would not have the Opposition leader’s support. Matt Wrack countered that:
Strikes can be resolved, lift the sacking notices and there won’t be any industrial action whatsoever. We’ve never walked away from any negotiations, we’ve invited the fire service to negotiate time and time again, our officials will be ready between now and any time between the strike.”
By the end of the day,however, it appeared that talks would take place and are expected later today.
London firefighters two weeks ago voted by 3482 to 943 to take strike action unless London Fire Brigade Commissioner, Ron Dobson withdrew his letter of 11 August which began the legal process of sacking the capital’s 5557 uniformed and 41 non-operational firefighters. The majority was 79% and the turnout was 79%.
London Fire Brigade’s sacking notices had been designed to pressurise firefighters into accepting new shift patterns which would have them working 12-hour day shifts and 12-hour night shifts. The change from the present shift patterns of two nine hour day shifts and two fifteen hour night shifts a week could also pave the way for a reduction of night-time fire cover. In addition it would mean that firefighters with young families seldom get to see their children.