With firefighters on the frontline continuing to keep the public safe during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s vital that FBU members’ voices and concerns are heard. Tam McFarlane, FBU national officer, shares the ways that FBU members can continue to organise throughout the pandemic.
The FBU has been around the negotiating table discussing the response to COVID19 with fire chiefs and employers, and we now have a clear national agreement around what additional activities firefighters will be able to do in the unfolding crisis.
The agreement will help protect the health of our members, but also enable those who wish to deliver additional services, such as driving ambulances and delivering medicines, to do so when agreed by the FBU locally.
Throughout this difficult and challenging period, we want to make clear that the FBU will be here to support members, and will continue to campaign on their behalf throughout.
We have already called for firefighters as key workers to get priority testing for COVID-19, and have written to the respective UK governments.
In our national agreement, it makes clear that employers have a duty to provide firefighters with the proper support, including the necessary personal protective equipment. But this will, of course, require local negotiation and agreement, so it’s more important than ever that our members continue to have a say in their workplaces, and in our union.
That means throughout this crisis, we will need to know what’s happening in your place of work and be able to hear any concerns you may have over working conditions or health and safety during this pandemic.
Organising, but done differently
At a time when so many of us are “social distancing”, our ways of communicating and organising have to change. We can’t hold normal FBU meetings at this time, and so we have to find new ways of interacting.
Watches, fire stations, control rooms, and other fire and rescue service workplaces are the core of the union during this crisis. This is where members will have the most contact and where the majority of discussions will take place.
In these discussions, we need to make sure that members are kept up to date, and are able to raise collective views, concerns, and requests for advice in their workplaces.
To do this, we are calling on all members to organise on their watches, workplaces and other teams around the following key points:
- Every wholetime watch on a fire station/control room should elect a specific FBU watch rep for this period. This person will be the contact point for passing on information and feeding in the views, concerns and specific requests for advice of their workmates.
- Remember, the first contact for watch reps is always their respective FBU branch (workplace) reps. The branch rep will collate all the information/views from each watch in the station/control room and make sure they are taken forward.
- Every RDS fire station should make sure they have Branch reps in place, if not then this is the time to elect them and ensure that your FBU brigade officials have their contact details.
- Make sure everyone knows who your watch/workplace representatives are. Put their names on the FBU contact poster and put it in a prominent place on your workplace FBU noticeboard. This will make sure everyone knows who the contact points are during this period.
- A central workplace noticeboard is vital during this period. Every member should take responsibility to keep the noticeboard regularly updated and replace outdated advice/reports as the situation develops.
- Every watch should make sure they check the noticeboard for updates when they come on duty.
- Follow health advice carefully - protect yourself as an individual and also your colleagues on your watches and workplaces. Advice is constantly being updated so make sure that the FBU noticeboard is regularly checked and, where necessary, changed.
Although some members might have to self-isolate during this health crisis, it’s essential that they don’t feel isolated from the FBU. With phone, email and social media, it’s easier to stay in contact than ever before. Please make sure to keep in touch with colleagues who are working from home to ensure that they are still kept informed and able to have their say.
With all the uncertainty caused by this health crisis, members will want to be kept up-to-date with the latest news and health advice. All members should follow the FBU’s social media accounts, which posts the latest news as it happens. For those without social media accounts, the FBU workplace noticeboard is a fantastic source of information.
We are living through unprecedented times, but by using new methods of organising and communicating, we can stay on track and continued to stand up for our colleagues, our profession, and those on the frontline we will be serving throughout this pandemic.