Surrey firefighters launch trade dispute amid cuts

Surrey Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have launched a trade dispute with their fire and rescue service, calling for management to end unsafe practices in their fire and rescue service. Concerned firefighters and residents will protest outside Surrey County Hall at 13:00 on Tuesday 24th September.

The trade dispute raises a number of concerns including:

  • There are simply not enough firefighters and emergency fire control staff to provide safe frontline crewing in Surrey. Current proposals to cut a further 7 fire engines at night will inflict huge damage on Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to provide fire crews quickly to protect lives and property.
  • Emergency fire control staff in Surrey are also currently expected to take on mobilisation duties for firefighters in West Sussex, but do not have capacity at current staffing levels to do so for either or both fire services. Control staff have specialist training and knowledge of operational and practices and are essential for mobilising and operating fire crews.
  • The staffing levels in the services are so bad that firefighters are constantly moving between fire stations to keep the fire engines available for calls, leaving crews overstretched and demoralised.
  • Firefighters work a basic 42 hour week. Every day, the service relies upon firefighters coming into work on their off-duty days in order to make the fire engine available for calls. Fire engines are consistently taken “off the run” across Surrey due to insufficient crew availability. This is unsustainable.
  • A culture of bullying and intimidation from management has prospered in an attempt to cover up the dangerous impact. Firefighters have been disciplined for telling their politicians about risks to the community from cuts. Employment rights have been denied, with workplace grievances ignored and downgraded.
  • The withdrawal of vital emergency equipment and working conditions are impeding firefighters’ ability to respond to emergencies and endangering their lives. Breathing apparatus guidelines, which allow firefighters to penetrate deeply into fires, are currently set to be removed, which exacerbates an already untenable position whereby crews are often turning up to fires with inadequate resources.

Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary, said:

“Conditions in Surrey fire and rescue service simply aren’t safe for members of the public, or firefighters for that matter. Firefighters work tirelessly to keep people safe, but they have had enough. Our members have told us that they won’t stand by and put up with dangerous staffing arrangements for any longer.  

“Firefighters have asked the FBU to challenge the chaos in Surrey fire and rescue service. The union has tried engaging constructively but have been dismissed by management and the County Council. It’s shameful that it has come to this, but we cannot continue to compromise public safety.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“This is a disgrace. Fire service management are showing a callous disregard for public safety and the welfare of their employees. Firefighters in Surrey have the full support of their union. We will not stand by and let them be mistreated. Surrey residents and business owners deserve a fire and rescue service which can keep them safe.”

The FBU is demanding that Surrey fire and rescue service address their concerns by 7th October 2019. If they do not, the union will ballot its members for industrial action under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has already experienced brutal cuts, with 135 firefighter positions slashed between 2010 and 2019 – an 18% reduction in the workforce. A December 2018 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) voicing “serious concerns” about the service’s effectiveness and efficiency in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks.

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