On Tuesday this coming week, many of us will attend the funeral of Brother Stephen Hunt in Bury. I will be wearing my FBU black ribbon badge in honour of Stephen and in memory of our other colleagues who have died in the line of duty.
We introduced the ribbon badge a few years ago after we became increasingly concerned at what appeared to be a sharp rise in the number of deaths of firefighters at work, at fires and at other emergency incidents. As a result of this concern we commissioned research on the subject and published a report (In the Line of Duty). This remains the most detailed and up to date report on UK firefighter fatalities.
We did this because we wanted to ensure that the lessons of such tragedies are learned and that the same mistakes are not made again. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is the case. The issues we raised within the fire and rescue service in 2008 are still there today. The investigation of recent firefighter deaths reveal that lessons have not been learned or applied across our service. It therefore angers me when I hear people talking complacently about improved safety in the fire and rescue service; usually people who have not bothered to do the slightest bit of research or reading.
When such tragedies happen the entire fire service is shocked. We pull together to try to look after the bereaved families and the other people affected by the incident. But all such tragedies leave deep scars which don’t just go away once the funeral is over. The FBU is still fighting for compensation for bereaved families more than six years after one such incident – and fighting against the resistance of the employer. In other cases we have identified that steps recommended following previous deaths have simply not been adopted or implemented across the board. Tragically and disgracefully, central government (at least in England) says this has little or nothing to do with them. It’s all down to local arrangements and the local plans of the fire and rescue authority, apparently. What they are incapable of answering is how the service improves if there are no mechanisms to ensure it does and no adequate monitoring or inspection requirements.
These are matters which were raised again at our conference in Blackpool in May this year, two months before Stephen Hunt was tragically killed carrying out his duties. We are currently arranging follow up research building on what we did in 2008 to ensure we can carry on fighting for the safety of firefighters and for justice for their families. This is a struggle which is never easy and never short.
So on Tuesday, whether you can be at the funeral in Bury or not, wear your FBU black ribbon badge. Your brigade officials should have them. Wear it in honour of Stephen and in solidarity with his family, friends and colleagues. Wear it in memory of our other brothers and sisters killed in the line of duty – here and across the world.
Remember the dead; fight for the living
The FBU is currently balloting members over pensions.
We expect a bit of a war of words at such a time. The governments(s) have started responding. So have various Chief Officers and other principal managers. One theme of these responses is that the FBU is overstating the case on capability. There is no real threat of mass dismissals. There is nothing to worry about. Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
In the London Fire Brigade the head of Human Resources, James Dalgleish, has posted some comments to this affect on the blog of the Commissioner, Ron Dobson. Mr Dalgleish says, among other things,
“No one knows what will happen in nine years time, but management don’t expect to see sudden increases in capability dismissals and there is no evidence to suggest that that will be the case.” (26 July)
So let’s look at this a little more closely. Is it true that there is no such evidence?
They’ve got form for it
Mr Dalgleish is trying to suggest that: The London Fire Brigade, like other fire services, is a caring employer. They would not put employees in such a position, would they? Well they have already tried it – but want us all to forget the harsh reality.
The London Fire Brigade infamously stopped the pensions of three London firefighters in 2007. The three firefighters had already been retired (by decision of the LFB) but the government then changed the rules for ill-health retirements. The London Fire Brigade stopped the three pensions, on the basis that the three no longer qualified for an ill-health pension. But the LFB also refused to re-employ the three, saying that they were no jobs for them. They were placed in the position of having NO JOB and NO PENSION.
What brought this to an end? Did the Commissioner step and say it was unfair? Did government take urgent action to address this injustice? Did the London HR department (led by a certain Mr. James Dalgleish) see the error of their ways and reinstate the pensions? No, none of these things happened. Instead, the FBU had to fight a long campaign, politically and legally until we eventually won an appeal in court (after initially losing the case). The pensions were restored. No thanks whatsoever to LFEPA. No thanks to the commissioner. No thanks to Mr. Dalgleish. No, the pensions were restored purely as a result of legal action taken on behalf of FBU members by – the FBU.
They wouldn’t put people in the position of No Job and No Pension would they? Pull the other one, James.
The employers warned that capability dismissals would rise if the pension changes were made
We also find that they are not being entirely straight about the long running discussions on pensions. These have included tripartite meetings between the FBU, CLG officials and representatives of the fire and rescue service employers. During the course of these, the FBU argued that the increase in pension age would lead to a consequential increase in ill-health retirements. As people got older, they would be unable to carry out their role and more would need to be retired on health grounds.
Oh no, said the employers. This would not be the most likely outcome. If fitness declined, that would not constitute the basis for retirement since declining fitness should not be classified as ill-health. Such people would not meet the requirements of the pension scheme and would not be entitled to a pension. No, anybody so affected would be more likely to face dismissal under capability and we would be likely to see a significant increase in such dismissals as a result of the changes.
Let us be absolutely clear here.
It was the fire and rescue service employers’ representatives who first stated, very clearly, that the increase in normal pension age to 60 would lead to an increase in capability dismissals in the fire and rescue service. To claim otherwise now is…. well you can make your own mind up about that.
And which fire service provided the lead advisor for the employers throughout these discussions? We’ll leave you to guess.
As you might expect on a subject such as pensions, there are a lot of facts and figures being fired around. But one emerged this week that was particularly telling. After a phone-in on pensions with Fire Minister Brandon Lewis, a poll of its 130 listeners indicated 72% had been given no better understanding of the subject than when they’d started.
The world’s changing very fast, of course, and perhaps the minister should be congratulated on attempting to embrace new technology, despite the frustrations of his audience. But whatever they pull out of the toy box in an effort to improve communication, the government simply cannot overcome the fact that after two years of negotiations, firefighters have still not been told many of the basic details of their pension proposals.
Lewis’ letter earlier in the week had been right to say that firefighters need the full facts before they made any decision over strike action. But after years of frustrating negotiations – and a rather unsuccessful internet phone-in – we still don’t know how much people would have to contribute or what would happen to them if they couldn’t maintain operational fitness until the age 60. These are crucial issues to firefighters – and to public safety.
As fun as Twitter and phone-ins are, they are no substitute for real talks. The government must stop issuing incomplete and misleading information and come back to the negotiating table until we find a workable pension scheme that takes into account the occupational requirements of the job.
Last week saw the FBU annual national school take place at Wortley Hall near Sheffield. The FBU has a very long association with Wortley going back to the 1950s when the venue was bought with the aim of developing it as a centre for trade unions and working people. A huge amount of work has been done since then and the place is certainly very different to the venue when I first attended in the mid-1980s – its warmer and you have your own shower for a start!
Our national school covers a huge range of issues. We examine how the fire service fits into wider society and in turn how our terms and conditions are affected by much wider influences. Some very interesting debates developed about the state of the economy and the role of the banking sector.
The Thursday evening saw some entertainment with a political slant as we invited Will Kaufman to perform his one man show about Woody Guthrie. Guthrie was a songwriter, activist, hobo and many other things in the USA of the great depression. Many of the themes addressed by Woody Guthrie in his lyrics are remarkably relevant today.
Thanks to all the speakers and tutors at the school and particularly to all the students from all parts of the FBU.
Here is a cover of a Guthrie song by Ry Cooder from 1973.
The FBU launched a series of adverts in the press last Monday in the run up to our lobby of Parliament on Wednesday. It caused quite a stir. The (English) Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) isssued a press comment cricising us and a number of MPs raised objections. It even prompted this article in the Daily Telagraph. I suspect you know you’re doing something right when such people get so angry.
FBU members on the other hand, were very pleased to see such a sharp answer to the cuts in our service. Thanks to all those who attended the rally and lobby on Wednesday. Thanks also to our various speakers. Here is what I had to say. FBU westminster rally november 2012
This Wednesday will see FBU members from around the UK attend a lobby of Parliament in Westminster to argue against cuts in the fire service. This is a targetted lobby of delegates from each brigade committee – but all FBU members are asked to follow this up by contacting your local MP. This can be done by email, in writing or face to face.
The union’s case against further cuts can be found here.
Having bought myself an i-pad, I am hoping to be able to update the blog a bit quicker than in the past. I have not yet quite mastered putting pics in the blog from the i-pad so there may be some delays in that. But because its easier to carry I can draft posts much quicker.
Am writing this on the train back from Leeds. The West Yorkshire brigade committee called a march and rally against the proposed cuts in the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. You can read more about the proposed cuts here.
We had a lively march led by FBU members carrying a coffin to symbolise the threat to the service. We were accompanied by the FBU campaign fire engine which is slowly working its way back to London having been on tour, including a visit to the Scottish TUC demonstration in Glasgow.
Well done to all the local members who turned out and thanks to the friends and family members who came along – as well as the campaigners and members of other unions who came along to support.
I am sure this will just the the latest of many marches and rallies as FBU members get organised to oppose the cuts.
Thanks to the West Yorkshire officials and brigade committee for organising this.
I am just travelling to Grantham for an Executive Council meeting having attended a retirement function for London member Brother Dean Bird – someone I have known for many, many years.
Dean has been a long standing Station Officer in London – at Bethnal Green and more recently at Holloway. He has also been an extremely loyal FBU member throughout his 32 years service. Dean knew his trade – his profession – inside out, working at some very busy fire stations. But he also understood the real meaning of team work. As a station officer he was in charge of his watch but he was also part of a team. His commitment to the FBU massively influenced how he worked throughout his time in the service. Some people are willing to surrender anything for the price of promotion – not Dean. He knew that there are sometimes things more important – like being true to yourself and sticking to your principles. He did that. He was – is – a fine example of a fire service officer and a fine example of an FBU member. It was an honour to be able to attend and speak at his retirement function – FBU members only.
I have just got home from Gorleston-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth. I attended the funeral of Brother Alan Soards. Alan was a member of the FBU in Suffolk based in Lowestoft. Alan died in tragic circumstances whilst engaged in training for water rescue. He also died tragically young.
The tributes at his funeral reflected his commitment to the fire and rescue service and to his community. There was a good attendance of firefighters from across the country, reflecting the close knit nature of our service and profession. I hope that Alan’s family and friends will have received some comfort from this and the support of that community will help at this difficult time.
On Wednesday, I attended and spoke at the Fire Sector Summit at Wembley. This event is convened by the Fire Protection Association and draws together various people from the fire and rescue service and the wider fire sector. This includes insurers, manufacturers, architects and the like.
I spoke on a Q&A panel chaired by John Humphreys of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Also speaking were Peter Dartford of CFOA (and CFO of Staffordshire FRS), Brian Robinson (Chair of the Fire Sector Federation; former Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade) and new CLG Fire Minister Brandon Lewis. Among other things, the discussion covered issues such as the scale of the cuts in the fire service, national standards v. localism, fire safety inspection regimes in the service and the impact of cuts on levels of training.