London Fire Brigade

London Fire Brigade - strike statement

01 November 2010

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “The London Fire Brigade’s contingency plans have, for the second day of FBU strike action, been rolled out on schedule. All 162 contract staff providing the fire and rescue service in the capital today are either now available or waiting to be deployed from the Brigade’s training centre in Southwark. During the day 27 fully crewed appliances will operate, responding to 999 calls received.”

The strike action started at 10.00 a.m. and is due to end at 6.00 p.m.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

During the strike firefighters will attend:

  • Serious fires - like those in Londoners homes – confirmed by a 999 call
  • Fires that involve gas cylinders or hazardous substances
  • Explosions
  • Vehicle fires or boat fires
  • Fires at railway stations and rail and road tunnels or fires involving people in underground tunnels
  • Aircraft or train crashes
  • Road traffic collisions
  • Collapsed structures

During the strike firefighters may not be able to attend:

  • Grass fires and other outdoor fires such as trees, hedges or undergrowth alight
  • Rubbish fires (including in bins and skips) and fires on open ground
  • Leakages and spillages of petrol and other flammable liquids (these will be referred to Local Authorities
  • Large animal rescues (these will be referred to the RSPCA)
  • People shut in lifts (owners of buildings are responsible for ensuring arrangements are in place to release people from faulty lifts)
  • Flooding
  • Automatic fire alarms – a fire engine will only be sent when the fire has been confirmed by a 999 call

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

What’s the story?
London Fire Brigade is proposing to change the start and finish times of duty for its frontline firefighters.

How?
By reducing the current 15 hour night shift to 12 hours, and increasing the current 9 hour day shift to 12 hours, therefore providing a longer day shift. Firefighters will continue to work two day shifts followed by two night shifts then have four days off.

What are the current and proposed start and finish times?

Current day shift
 9.00am – 6.00pm  (9 hours)

Current night shift
6.00pm – 9.00am (15 hours)

Proposed day shift
8.00am – 8.00pm  (12 hours)

Proposed night shift
8.00pm – 8.00am  (12 hours)
 
* Since negotiations began the Brigade has moved (discussed in August 2010) to a further compromise position of an 11 hour day and 13 hour night.

What’s wrong with the current start and finish times?
The current start and finish times have been in place since 1979 and the work we do today has changed dramatically. We don’t just respond to fires anymore. Firefighters train for and attend a much wider range of incidents such as flooding, collapsed buildings, chemical incidents etc, and work harder than ever before to prevent fires from happening in the first place.

The current start and finish times also result in a change of shift during both the morning and evening rush hours when fire brigade incident demand is at its highest.

What are the benefits of the proposed changes?
The changes would significantly increase the productive time available during the day shift for essential training and community fire safety work to be arranged. For instance, firefighters now prevent fires by visiting Londoners in their homes, fitting free smoke alarms and offering advice on preventing fires.

The new start and finish times would also mean less disruption to services during a crucially busy period of the day. The current shift change takes place during morning and evening rush hour.

Will firefighters actually be working more hours?
No, the overall number of hours that firefighters currently work each week is not increasing. The balance in hours between the day and night shifts is all that is changing.

How long has this been going on?
Discussions have been ongoing with LFEPA Authority members, staff and the FBU for five years. We believe the debate has gone on long enough and the Brigade can only provide the services that it needs to by making these changes now.

Are the start and finish times negotiable?
Yes. The Commissioner has made a commitment to reach an agreed position with the FBU, and 12 hour shifts are not set in stone, though clearly we are seeking more time in the day shift to provide the public services we need to provide. We have already offered a 11 hour day/13 hour night shift pattern.

What are LFB’s views on the FBU’s ballot for industrial action?
We are disappointed that the Union has taken this course of action and believe it is badly timed while we still have an opportunity for talks and to come to a settlement.

Section 188 explained

What does Section 188 mean?
Section 188 is a section of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. It stipulates that an employer proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees within a period of 90 days or less must consult the “appropriate representatives” of the employees affected by the redundancies. In this case the appropriate representatives will be the trades unions.

Under Section 188, redundancy includes the situation where the employer wants to terminate the existing contracts of employment and offer re-engagement on new terms and conditions.

Section 188 requires the consultation to include ways of avoiding any dismissals, reducing the numbers of employees to be dismissed and lessening the consequences of the dismissals. It also sets out the information that the employer must provide to the trade unions as part of the consultation and includes the reasons for the proposals, and the number and jobs of the affected employees. 

Have staff been sacked?
No. Negotiations so far have not resulted in a collective agreement, but the Brigade will continue to try and reach agreement on a change in start and finish times during the consultation period which will last for at least 90 days. Only if agreement is not reached following the consultation will a decision be made on whether or not to give notice to employees to terminate existing contracts and offer re-engagement on new start and finish times.

What happens after the consultation period ends?
If a collective agreement has not been reached during the consultation period and the Brigade has replied to the representations made by the FBU, the Brigade will need to decide how to proceed. At this point, the Brigade could decide to give notice that it will terminate existing contracts of employment and offer re-engagement on new terms and conditions. The notice required is a maximum of 12 weeks.

If staff don’t sign up to the new contract, are they sacked?
If we get to the point where the Brigade terminates contracts of employment and you have chosen not to sign up to the new contract of employment on offer, then yes, effectively they will be dismissed.

If staff contracts are terminated, are they entitled to redundancy pay?
No, this is only a ‘redundancy’ under Section 188.  The job will still exist and offers of re-engagement would be made to everybody whose existing contracts are being terminated. So there would be no redundancy pay.

CapitalGuard information (the contingency arrangements)

Why do we have a contract with a private company to provide fire cover?
In common with other UK fire and rescue services, the London Fire Brigade has a legal duty to provide a fire and rescue service at all times. We also have a duty under section 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to plan for emergencies and that if an emergency occurs takes reasonable steps to make sure we are still able to continue to perform our functions.

We can no longer rely on support from the military with their green goddesses as we did in the past. So to comply with our statutory duties alternative arrangements have been put in place

Who is providing this service?
In June 2009 the Authority entered into a five year, £9m contract with AssetCo to provide London with a contingency level of fire and rescue services if our firefighters are not available, for example, in the event of severe pandemic illness, industrial action, natural disaster or catastrophic incident. AssetCo also currently provide the Brigade’s operational vehicles and equipment.

What level of service are AssetCo providing?
The arrangement in place secures the ability to deploy up to 27 fire appliances, deployed from one of 27 strategic locations across the Brigade area. We believe that the service will provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, an acceptable level of contingency cover.

27 fire appliances is far less that the Brigade’s current fleet?
The service provided by the contractor is not intended to replicate or replace the Brigade’s operational cover arrangements and a reduced level of firefighting services will be provided. The contractor will be able to provide basic firefighting and some rescue capabilities, and will be able to provide a response to road traffic collisions.

Isn’t this just a strike-breaking measure?
No. The contractor can be asked to provide a service on behalf of the Brigade in a number of circumstances, such as a pandemic, a natural disaster or a major terrorist incident.

Industrial action across the UK

Shift change in other Brigades?
Many other fire authorities across the country have made changes to shifts for operational firefighters.  These have included a number of the larger metropolitan brigades, such as West Midlands, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

The need for greater flexibility in working arrangements within fire and rescue services has led a number of other fire authorities to review existing arrangements and London has been involved in sharing information with those brigades to assist them in their planning.

What change has been achieved elsewhere?
West Midlands fire and rescue service were one of the first authorities to implement changes to working arrangements.  Following extensive negotiations there was a period of industrial action resulting in 3 x 3 hour strikes in November 2005.  The dispute was settled and West Midlands currently operate a 10 hour day shift and 14 hour night shift with two additional overlay shifts providing extended day time fire cover.

South Yorkshire fire and rescue service were seeking 2 equal shifts of 12 hours, as originally proposed by the London Fire Brigade.  Again following negotiations there was industrial action consisting of 2 x 24 hour strikes during October 2009 and 5 X 8 hour strikes during October/November 2009, before the dispute was resolved through arbitration. The fire authority commenced new shift start and finish times in May 2010 consisting of an 11 hour day and 13 hour night shift.

West Yorkshire fire and rescue service also introduced an 11 hour day and 13 hour night shift in January 2008 following a negotiated agreement with the FBU.

What has been the impact on recruitment, sickness and community safety activities since these authorities implemented these changes?
South Yorkshire fire and rescue service have not conducted any recruitment since implementing changes, but have held a positive action event targeting under represented groups and this proved to be South Yorkshire’s most successful event, attracting over 700 applicants.  The authority has seen no change in the retention of staff and sickness levels have remained the same.  In the four month period since the changes were made, the authority has completed over 700 more home fire safety visits against the same period last year.

West Yorkshire fire and rescue service have reported that they were oversubscribed during their last recruitment round, receiving 2,587 applications.  700 more than their previous recruitment round before the changes were made.  The round showed no reduction in interest from under represented groups with both women and BME groups each making up 11% of the total applications.  Staff turnover has remained constant and sickness levels have fallen, although this is in part due to changes in the monitoring processes for sickness absence.  The main productivity gains have been in staff training, visits to identified operational risks and staff fitness training.  Staff were offered the opportunity to vote on a change back to a 10 hour day and 14 hour night after a settling in period, and rejected the offer in favour of the new arrangements.

Who can I contact for more information?
For more information contact London Fire Brigade’s press office on 020 8536 5922