In what appears to be a deliberately provocative move, all 1,250 firefighters stationed across the Greater Manchester region have today been informed that they will all lose their jobs. Only workers who agree to a set of new imposed conditions of employment, relating to shift-patterns, will get their jobs back.
The process has started with little consultation and no agreement with the FBU, who represent over 90% of firefighters in Greater Manchester.
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester FBU stated that:
We are staggered that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service would jeopardise relations with its workforce in this aggressive way. To start the process for dismissing firefighters to then simply re-engage them on an un-negotiated contract is really appalling, and a serious breach of the agreed mechanisms for industrial relations in the UK fire and rescue service.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service own figures show that there has been a 140% increase in rescues over the last year, and a 300% rise in fatalities. The new proposed shift pattern is designed to stretch cover so that management are able to save money £14 million by making 250 firefighters, one in five, redundant. Despite the obligatory reassurances that public safety remains the priority, the Chairperson of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, David Acton, recently claimed that:
The service was struggling to cope with increased demand due to flooding and other incidents.
His comments were echoed by those of the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, who has acknowledged that fire statistics have risen in the last two years, stating:
so it is clearly more important than ever to focus on our work.
Despite the statistical evidence supporting the need to maintain current staffing levels, and the concerns of the boss of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and the responsible Minister of State, from next year, Greater Manchester will have less than half the firefighters it had in 1996.
The way in which the government and fire service management have gone about this process, on the surface, seems incompetent and ill-considered. Yet a cynic would perhaps see this as the government deliberately provoking a fight with a trade union, which will have the knock-on effect of helping them in their push for draconian trade union legislation.
A 45 day consultation on the new contracts will start at some point this week, with a proposed implementation date of 1st April 2017.