Minister accuses firefighters of breaking major blaze strike deal

Brandon Lewis says union members breached deal after refusing to work during a fire that had been declared a 'major incident' by brigade chiefs

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The Independent Online

Striking firefighters were accused by a minister of breaching a deal after refusing to work during a fire that had been declared a “major incident” by brigade chiefs.

The latest strike by firemen went ahead as planned at 6.30pm despite a fierce blaze at a scrap metal dealership in Dagenham, East London.

The London Fire Brigade issued a 'recall' of Fire Brigade Union (FBU) members but it was ignored, said the union's London secretary Paul Embery, because there had been no consultation or agreement.

“There has been no recall of Fire Brigade Union members agreed,” he said. “Unless this changes, firefighters will therefore continue to respect the strike action until 11pm tonight. The London Fire Brigade has been giving assurances that their contingencies were sufficient.”

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis and the brigade's leadership, however, insisted that by refusing to carry on working the union had broken a promise to continue working during major fires.

Mr Lewis said: “I'm pleased to see contingency plans across the country are working well so far tonight. Even in London, where the FBU have disappointingly breached the return to work protocol for a major incident, contingency plans have continued to keep the public safe.

”I'd like to thank all whole-time and retained firefighters and volunteers who have remained on duty tonight.“

Ron Dobson London Fire Commissioner also slammed the FBU: ”The large fire in Dagenham is on-going and has been declared a major incident.

“We have issued a recall notice and are asking striking Fire Brigades Union members in London to carry on working.

”The FBU have told firefighters not to follow the recall notice. They claim the recall is not valid because there is no risk to life. There is no reference to risk of life in the agreed protocols to implement a major incident.

“A major incident can and has been implemented because of the size of this fire and the resources needed to deal with it. By not responding to the recall it is the FBU that is in breach of the agreement.”

Nevertheless, the brigade said they were able to cope perfectly well using just “contingency crews” - non-union, part-time and volunteer firefighters.

The strike ended at 11pm but a further two-hour stoppage is scheduled for Monday at 6pm.

Fire brigades across the country had urged members of the public to put off any firework displays in their own gardens last and to switch them to today or to go to an organised event.

The union held a four-hour stoppage last month but called off another strike after it appeared a deal was in sight, but officials said the Government and fire employers had failed to offer any firm guarantees on jobs or pensions as a result of changing the pension age from 55 to 60.

The union fears firefighters will be made redundant if they fail fitness tests and are unable to find other work in the fire service.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “It is ludicrous that after two years of negotiations the Government has still not sorted out this mess.

”Firefighters are keen for these issues to be resolved through discussion but the Government won't even listen to its own evidence which highlights that the schemes are unworkable and unaffordable.

“Firefighters want a pension scheme that takes account of the hazardous nature of the job, is affordable and workable for them and for the taxpayer. We hope this brief strike will mean the Government returns to negotiations so we can agree a sensible way forward.”