Emergency 999 control operators in Essex will strike for three consecutive days over a radical change in shift patterns that have resulted in a number of staff being forced to quit their jobs, cut their hours, and many more being forced to consider doing the same.
Control operators will walk out for 72 consecutive hours from 7am on Tuesday 10 March until 7am Friday 13 March.
Keith Handscomb, of the FBU in East Anglia, said: “Our control members are vital to the professional emergency response we give to 999 calls. They are a pivotal part of the fire and rescue team. They take the panic-stricken calls at the start, gather risk critical information, mobilise fire and specialist rescue crews and keep control of all the emergency operations running in Essex 24-hours a day.
“The intolerable shift patterns imposed on them are having a devastating effect on their morale and their family lives, especially those parents with young families and other caring responsibilities. We have already seen a number of long standing professionals forced out of work.
“The union’s alternative, cost neutral proposals are still on the table. They achieve the same financial savings and meet the same operational objectives and yet they would be more family-friendly and more acceptable to our control members. We simply can’t understand why councillors on the fire authority haven’t backed calls for those alternative proposals to be picked up? It would be a win-win for the councillors.”
Since relocating control operations to the Kelvedon Park HQ earlier this year, the Essex control room has experienced numerous IT failures resulting in control staff having to take details of emergencies on pen and paper in order to despatch fire engines.
Jo Byrne, who represents FBU control staff across the UK, said: “Despite the cost-neutral alternative and the willingness of Essex control staff to accept compromise, Essex fire service management have just forged ahead and imposed the shift changes anyway.
“These shifts disproportionately affect parents with young families, and a number of our members have been forced to leave the service, whilst others have had no choice other than to reduce their hours to fit in with available childcare.
“Given the numerous problems the new Essex ‘state-of-the-art’ control room is having, it is a risk to public safety that skilled professionals are being forced out of the service.
“Essex fire service need to reconsider their position, value their staff properly and put an end to this dispute.”
Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of the FBU in Essex, said: “Firefighters in Essex stand in support of their frontline colleagues in our emergency fire control room. This shift system is unfair. It penalises working parents and results in skilled workers being forced out of the job. This is wrong.”