A High Court has today (25 May) ruled in favour of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as it declared a duty system requiring firefighters to work 96-hour shifts as unlawful.
The case centred on a duty system operated by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service known as close proximity crewing (CPC) but the judgement could affect dozens of fire and rescue services that operate similar shift systems.
The judgement, made by the Honourable Justice Kerr, was handed down at Manchester High Court and stated that: “CPC in the form used in South Yorkshire does not and cannot operate in accordance with (Working Time) regulations.”
Justice Kerr concluded: “I do not see how the CPC system as it exists at the four fire stations in South Yorkshire, can operate lawfully in compliance with regulation 10.”
Of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority’s actions, the judgement states that: “the illegality is continuing and there is a concerted plan [by the respondent] to continue the unlawful conduct”. It went on to say: “I am troubled that the stance of the Authority and the Service offers an affront to the rule of law”.
Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the FBU, said: “This was an important ruling and a tremendous success for the FBU. A number of fire and rescue authorities have been operating this duty system at a small number of fire stations around England and Wales. It is inconceivable that any Chief Officer or fire and rescue authority would have in place arrangements which mean that firefighters could be mobilised to deal with incidents having already spent up to 96 hours on duty.
“Firefighters carry out work under dangerous conditions and often the incidents we attend are long and arduous, examples of this include the response to the Grenfell Tower fire and protracted flooding incidents. South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority has already spent far too much public money on legal fees defending the indefensible.
“We expect the fire and rescue service to return the affected personnel to the negotiated 2-2-4 duty system as soon as possible. We have little doubt that the fire and rescue authority will threaten to reduce fire cover across South Yorkshire as a result of this ruling. The fire and rescue authority is sitting on a mountain of cash reserves and there is no reason to make further cuts to the emergency fire cover for the people of South Yorkshire.”
The legal battle began in October 2015 when a group of South Yorkshire firefighters argued that the duty system was unlawful at an employment tribunal. The tribunal ruled in their favour two months later in December. Despite this, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service with the permission of their fire authority, continued to operate the duty system.
Frustrated that the fire authority and its officers were flouting the law by ignoring the employment tribunal decision, the FBU sought legal advice from employment lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to take steps to seek a judicial review. The case was heard on 26 April 2018 with the union represented by Mr Oliver Segal QC.