Surrey rally Sept 2019

Fire Brigades Union suspends Surrey industrial action during COVID-19 outbreak

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will temporarily suspend industrial action in Surrey from today to support their community through the coronavirus outbreak.

Firefighters and control staff began a six-month campaign of industrial action short-of-strike in December 2019, including an overtime ban and a refusal to “work up” to more senior roles. The union will call off action from 18:00 tonight (30 March 2020).

The action was the culmination of a lengthy campaign to stop dangerous cuts to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, which would axe 70 firefighter jobs and remove seven fire engines at night.

The county’s fire service had already cut 135 firefighters and control staff since 2010, a 19% reduction in emergency response personnel.

Phase one of these cut backs which will result in four fire engines being cut at night, will still be implemented on 1 April, but the service have provisionally agreed with the FBU to suspend phase two, which would see a further three fire engines cut at night, until at least April 2021, with both sides agreeing to continue negotiations.

All of the cuts had been approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting in September, despite 68% of respondents to an official consultation opposing cuts to fire cover, while just 18% approved.

More than 13,000 people signed a petition opposing the cuts, but the council ultimately voted them through.

Last week, the FBU reached a landmark agreement with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and fire service employers, agreeing a national framework for fire and rescue services to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. If agreed locally, firefighters will be able to drive ambulances, deliver food and medicines to vulnerable people, and retrieve dead bodies.

Jay Devey, FBU brigade secretary, said:

“Surrey residents have stood with their firefighters against these dangerous cuts and now firefighters have agreed to postpone their industrial action and stand with them against this deadly virus.

“The cuts imposed by Surrey Fire and Rescue over the last decade have unmistakably damaged our ability to respond to emergencies, but for now it is essential that we all pull together and do our bit to beat this crisis.

“We are pleased that for now, fire service bosses and Surrey County Council have agreed to delay the second phase of the cuts, but remain bitterly disappointed it is still pushing ahead with the first phase of cuts on 1 April - the FBU urges the council to scrap these cuts in their entirety or risk further endangering lives.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Our union will always fight for the interests of firefighters, control staff, and the public they serve. These plans from some Surrey politicians and senior service management are dangerous and badly thought out, but these extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.

“Firefighters across the UK and internationally are pitching in to get their communities through this crisis and that means, in some cases, pausing industrial action, as well as doing tasks outside of their normal roles.

“In this emergency, as in any, communities look to their emergency services to lead them through. When we eventually see through this crisis, we hope they will remember the value of properly resourced services and bring an end to a decade of dangerous cuts.”

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