RECALL CONFERENCE: OUTCOMES AND PROGRESSING NEXT STEPS
The recall conference saw a major debate on the key issues facing us: pay, securing a sustainable fire and rescue service and future working.
The discussion centred on the primary issues of the austerity programme, decided upon by the government since 2010 in the wake of the 2008 crash and the impact on the sector, with spending being reduced from £3 billion p.a. to nearer £2 billion p.a. and the service being reduced by a third. Though the demand on FRSs remains high, we have seen the reduction in calls used as an excuse to cut jobs and appliances, attack our pensions and essentially freeze our pay or impose a 1% cap.
Conference noted with dismay the threat to the NJC and the problems we face in England from the legislation and Home Office drive on the issue of PCCs and the governance of FRSs. Conference noted that it was against that backdrop that we had agreed a strategy based upon the five workstreams in order to try to defend the service; advance national standards; maintain and enhance public support and progress improvements in pay and terms and conditions. Conference was reminded that no-one could guarantee the success of the strategy, but it was viable and the only one which had been identified that had the best chance of securing as many of the fundamental aims as possible.
Nearly twenty delegations contributed directly to the debate, with other delegations having ensured that their views would be, and had been, voiced by one or more of the speakers.
Delegates reflected that the trials had produced successes. A number of fire and rescue services had prepared well and had engaged with the union locally to ensure that sound arrangements had been put in place and had responded swiftly when problems had been identified. A number of delegates explained that the engagement with the emergency medical work (EMR) trials had ensured that cuts to stations and appliances that would otherwise have been closed/removed had been reversed, whilst others referred to the massive hike in the numbers of calls at the stations involved in the trials. Speakers said that it was clear to members in their FRS that lives had been saved because of the trials.
Many contributors referenced the University of Hertfordshire’s (UoH) report “Broadening Responsibilities: Consideration of the potential to broaden the role of uniformed fire service employees” (circulated via all members circular 2017HOC0142MW and available using the following web-link:https://www.fbu.org.uk/circular/2017hoc0142mw/national-joint-council-broadening-responsibilities-report) noting both the positive potential contribution the fire service could make, whilst also identifying the financial costs of this contribution, and bringing attention to the problems reported by fire and rescue service managers who had responsibility for the project in their FRS. Our delegates said that those problems echoed those raised by members in an FBU survey conducted at the end of 2016, which since that time have grown in number.
That ambulance services and hospitals don’t record and/or share data was identified by a number of speakers, who also referred to the UoH report which highlighted this fact.
Conference was clear that successes and examples of good managerial practice were not sufficient to overshadow the weaknesses that have been identified and experienced by members on the ground in too many instances. The examples cited included:
- Crews being exposed to the repeated exposure to tragedy because of the concentration of red 1 calls to which they are mobilised including 1 watch which attended 10 red 1 incidents involving fatalities in just one shift.
- Crews being mobilised to babies and children suffering cardiac events.
- Crews being mobilised when it was known in advance to the ambulance service that the “patient” was already dead, including in one case a baby who had died, where family members were seeking support.
- A crew being mobilised to a murder scene with the murderer still in the room attended by FRS personnel.
The common themes as examples of employers being under-prepared were:
- Training being insufficient for professional mobilised responders; the training only being given for CPR/defibrillation rather than identifying underlying causes.
- Crews being expected to be surrogate counsellors.
- Being mobilised to incident-types outside of the scope for the particular trial (for which no training had been given).
- FRSs not providing remedies to problems identified by crews.
- Insufficient mechanisms and facilities for (a) stress counselling and (b) mental health issues caused by exposure to harrowing events. Counselling services in FRSs were appalling with one delegation saying that its FRS has one FTE counsellor per 2500 uniformed employers.
- Individuals requiring relief from attending such calls being pressurised into continuing to do so.
It was poignant when one delegation reminded conference that only six months ago one employer had served a section 188 notice in order to reduce the number of appliances and crews that have been attending these calls. A number of delegations reported that their respective FRS was seeking to expand the trials and in one was attempting to impose a unilateral expansion.
Conference had concern that whilst ambulance services had to conform to standard clinical and operational protocols to attend and deal with such incidents, there were no common procedures or practices or requirements amongst fire services when doing so. The fear was expressed that the fire service was being engaged in a race to the bottom, which would impact adversely on patient care and ambulance service delivery.
REMEDIES AND FAIR REWARD
There was a consensus, albeit not universal, that members understood conference’s strategy and would maintain support on expansion of the firefighters’ role to improve public safety, but not at any cost. The funding of EMR out of standard, un-supplemented, budgets posed a real threat to fire service delivery.
Conference took the view that the operational problems were fundamental and were capable of being solved if the employers were to be serious about addressing them. Delegation after delegation said they awaited the outcome of the discussion with the employers to see if this was the case. Conference also noted that the primary focus had been on co-responding to cardiac arrest and that the employers needed to be alive to the fact that there were different activities being trialled and that each type had to be evaluated, and the problematic issues for each needed to be dealt with.
Conference was mindful of the legal case in 2006 where the non-contractual nature of medical response was recognised in the courts; the work of the service needed to be funded and employers and government needed to understand that professionals deserve professional pay.
Delegates made clear that pay was a core issue. To date, they had heard no reports from any quarter that government ministers’ had agreed to increase funding for any broadened role and especially not in respect of firefighter’s pay. Whilst delegates said they understood that all the issues couldn’t be fixed overnight, they expected to see progress and expected there to be something positive on pay. They emphasised that the employers need to be reminded that if the matter of pay isn’t addressed, then the trials and all other work arising from the workstreams, including MTFA, would be ceasing.
The outcome was that Resolution 1 National Joint Council: Work-stream, pay and conditions, moved by the General Secretary on behalf of the Executive Council, was carried by a significant margin following a card vote. The resolution was moved with reference to the Executive Council Background Statement for Recall Conference circulated via all members’ circular 2017HOC0161MW on 13 March 2017 and available using the following web-link:
The Executive Council is very mindful of the assurances which had been sought by and given to conference, both in the resolution and arising from the debate on the issues raised, and primarily the need for progress on pay, and that significant operational concerns reported to the Executive Council from committees during the course of the trials and from the conference floor are addressed.
Each of these issues will be pursued by the Executive Council. In respect of operational issues, the Executive Council, with the national employers, has established a process to address them dealing first with the immediate priorities.
Assistant General Secretary
Executive Council resolution
National Joint Council: work-streams, pay and conditions
Conference notes the background statement issued by the Executive Council, which sets out recent developments in discussions on pay, conditions and other matters at the National Joint Council.
Conference remains of the view that the strategy it has developed over more than four years remains the best way forward and the best way to address the concerns of all members about pay, terms and conditions, emergency cover and the long-term sustainability of our service.
This position can be summarised as:
- We believe that the adoption of a long-term strategic approach is absolutely correct.
- We believe that the broad terms of the strategic approach agreed by previous Conferences remain correct.
- Whilst maintaining a strategic approach, tactics may need to be adapted to take account of changing circumstances.
We face many opponents who would want to see the fire service suffer continuing cuts and fragmentation with attacks on collective bargaining and the further undermining of pay and conditions. The ultimate aim for some of these is the wholesale privatisation of the fire and rescue service across the UK and an ever greater use of volunteer agencies to undermine and by-pass the need for professional firefighters. That route will do nothing to protect and improve public or firefighter safety; we reject it and will campaign relentlessly against it.
However, there is an urgent need to address the very significant concerns and objections identified by FBU members in relation to EMR and wider work considered under these discussions. There is also an urgent need to address the lack of progress on MTFA due to obstacles created by government.
Conference agrees the following:
1.To maintain the strategy previously set out and agreed to develop the fire and rescue service as a modern and professional public protection and emergency response service with national professional standards at the heart of all future work.
2.To ensure that the case for national professional pay and conditions remains at the heart of this approach and that employers and governments are fully aware that there must be progress on fire service pay.
3.To finalise the FBU research on pay and to publicise this as appropriate as part of our campaign to improve pay. This should involve briefing meetings with members around the country.
4.To develop further lobbying and campaigning activity in order to make the case for investment in our service to undertake on a sustainable basis the work required to tackle the range of risks faced by our communities.
5.To make clear to governments and employers that further attacks on the NJC or on national collective bargaining arrangements risk the ending of the delicate discussions around the future work of our service and create unnecessary conflict within the fire and rescue service.
6.To instruct the Executive Council to immediately discuss with the employers revising the current EMR trials in order to urgently address the most vital areas of concern on operational, safety and welfare issues and to report on this to Conference in May 2017. Trials of EMR (including wider work) will continue while the Executive Council addresses the following:
a.A national agreement to address the operational, safety, welfare and related concerns identified by FBU members.
b.A national agreement with the employers to lobby and explore the mechanisms to secure sustainable funding for the fire and rescue service in relation to new areas of work.
c.Agreement for oversight committees at national and local level to monitor progress in any trials, including agreed mechanisms to address concerns raised.
d.Agreement with the employers for a clear timetable to address the pay and conditions demands of the FBU in relation to the work-streams project.
e.Agreement for satisfactory collection of robust data from all participating services.
f.Discussions with governments in all parts of the UK regarding the sustainability of the work identified by the five NJC work-streams.
g.Setting a clear end date for these trials; no later than the end of November 2017. Prior to any such date the Executive Council will report to members with recommendations for the next steps. At that time, and in the absence of
- clearly identified sustainable funding
- a clear commitment from the employers for a pay structure to reflect the potential new work identified by the work-streams
the trials and related non-contractual work will cease.
7.To demand that government ministers put in place the necessary collaboration measures to ensure data is adequately shared so that best practice can be developed from the trials.
8.To inform and consult all members about the strategies agreed by Conference, the progress made and the problems identified.
9.To further review the situation by Conference in May 2017.
10.Conference instructs the Executive Council to submit a pay claim for 2017 and, in the absence of an acceptable pay settlement for 2017 for FBU members, the current additional and non-contractual work being carried out under the umbrella of the work-streams will cease.