Firefighters win landmark right to potential compensation for injury to feelings after employer imposes new shift system
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has won the right to submit claims for compensation on behalf of its members – the new move follows a previous finding that South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service (SYFRS) was acting unlawfully by imposing a new shift or ‘duty’ system on its employees.
The original decision was made by Leeds Employment Tribunal in 2015, concluding that new duty systems introduced into SYFRS were unlawful. This latest decision, made on 30 January 2018 by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) means that the FBU can submit and pursue compensation claims for ‘injury to feelings’ for its members – these firefighters were forcibly displaced from their fire stations when the new working pattern was introduced.
The FBU members are represented by Thompsons solicitors who believe this is the first time that an award of this kind has been made for breaches of ‘working time regulations’.
The duty system, known in South Yorkshire as “Close Proximity Crewing”, is a ‘’continuous duty system’ that requires personnel to be on duty at the fire station for 96-hours over four days. It was introduced at four South Yorkshire fire stations resulting in the displacement of a number of firefighters. These firefighters recognised the risks to themselves and to the community posed by these long hours of work. Some of the affected firefighters had served their communities at those stations for these very lengthy periods.
The dangers of firefighters being on duty for so long at particular types of incidents are apparent, such as the harrowing, challenging work at protracted flooding incidents. The rescues and firefighting required at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower fire in West London provide another prime example.
Despite the duty system being determined as unlawful by the employment tribunal, and that SYFRS had unlawfully mistreated its employees, facts which the service chose not to appeal, the duty system continues to operate.
Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “This finding by the EAT is very welcome as it increases the chance of this group of badly mistreated firefighters receiving the justice they have been due since 2014. This type of duty system has been introduced into a handful of UK fire services at a relatively small number of stations. It is unfair and unsafe. It’s an example of poor service delivery which is the result of bad decision-making by the fire and rescue authority in South Yorkshire which continues to use tax-payers money to defend the indefensible. The duty system needs to be removed now to avoid any further legal costs which will be borne by the taxpayers of South Yorkshire.”
The FBU will now again be writing to the fire authority and South Yorkshire MPs to ask that the shift system is removed immediately. They will press for the tax payers money SYFR is spending in legal costs fighting ongoing legal challenges is quickly re-directed towards front line fire cover.