Firefighters' disputes set to escalate

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The Independent Online

A series of local disputes by firefighters is set to escalate to the biggest bout of industrial unrest in the service since a national strike six years ago.

Firefighters in London, South Yorkshire, Humberside and Merseyside are involved in separate rows over jobs, conditions of service and disciplinary action.

The Fire Brigades Union announced today that several hundred of its members in Essex will launch a campaign of industrial action next week against plans to cut jobs, including a ban on overtime or rest day working.

The union said up to 8,000 of its members could be taking some form of industrial action by next week, the biggest number since the bitter national strike of 2002/3.

A national rally and lobby of Parliament is being planned in October to highlight opposition to cuts in jobs and conditions of service.

The union said one in 10 frontline firefighting jobs in Essex were threatened with the axe under cost-cutting plans.

FBU official Keith Flynn said: "Essex fire crews don't want to take any action but we have little option. We'd hoped to resolve the dispute by now but the fire authority keep finding excuses to avoid negotiating and have thus far refused our offer of a joint review that might reach an agreement.

"We've given as long as the law allows before we have to give notice of the start of action. This action is taken reluctantly but with great determination to stop cuts to frontline fire services.

"The fire authority appears to have no shortage of money to spend on the wrong priorities. Savings can be made, but cuts in Essex are only being targeted at the frontline 999 emergency response."

The union said the fire authority planned to cut the number of firefighters from 954 to 905 by March 2010.

Merseyside firefighters today warned they will ballot for a strike if a "victimised" union official who was sacked is not re-instated.

The Fire Brigades Union claimed Kevin Hughes, who was arrested after assault allegations last year, was dismissed after a "kangaroo court" hearing.

The union has given the fire authority seven days to re-instate Mr Hughes or it will start the balloting process.