Firefighters vote to strike in Essex

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The Independent Online
Firefighters are to stage two strikes in protest at spending cuts, after voting overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Essex voted by 58 per cent to take action against plans to cut pounds 1.5m from the local fire service budget.

They will stage a 24-hour strike on Saturday 19 April and a four-hour walkout on Monday 21 April. Further dates will be announced later, the union said.

The FBU's general secretary Ken Cameron said: "This regrettable situation is a direct consequence of the serious underfunding of the fire service over the last 18 years." He claimed that fire service staff were being placed at "unnecessary risk".

"We hope that even at this late stage, we can sit down to meaningful discussions with the Essex fire authority to try and avoid a situation which has been forced upon us to protect the lives and safety of Essex firefighters," he said.

The union announced that further ballots for industrial action were to be held in London, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk over the safety of firefighters likely to be called on to answer emergency calls in Essex.

The FBU said it was not acceptable to expect people to cover Essex calls working in unfamiliar territory alongside a "poorly trained, ill-equipped and inadequate" military.

Essex County Council has brought in 25 Army Green Goddesses to cover for striking firefighters in anticipation of today's ballot result. The authority said earlier that firefighters could face suspension and loss of pay to cover the cost of the emergency cover, which could run to pounds 1m a month.

The union has warned that 52 jobs will be lost and recruitment and training hit by the cuts, which the council has blamed on underfunding from central government.

Chris Pearson, the leader of Essex County Council, said: "I am very disappointed in the decision. But my door is still open for discussion with the FBU and I hope we can avoid industrial action in Essex, which could endanger county people.

"I am still hopeful of avoiding a strike."

He said that a meeting with the FBU, which was planned before the strike announcement, would still go ahead. The meeting is planned for 15 April. Meanwhile, training on the Green Goddesses is continuing in Essex.

The voting by the union members was 58.2 per cent in favour of taking industrial action with 41.8 per cent against, in a high turnout of more than 80 per cent.

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