Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bonfire Night Strike Warning

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bonfire Night Strike Warning

Article excerpt

Fire chiefs have warned firefighters they are risking people's lives if they repeat yesterday's wildcat industrial action over pay during tonight's Bonfire Night celebrations.

As the North prepared for what is traditionally the busiest night of the year for fire crews, Tyne and Wear Chief Fire Officer Richard Bull warned his 1,128 firefighters not to resort to a work-to-rule answering only 999 calls - claiming the action would put lives in danger.

Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) officials accused fire chiefs of deceiving the public and added that even if firefighters did resort to a work-to-rule, emergency calls would be answered promptly and safety would not be compromised.

Mr Bull issued his ultimatum hours after last-ditch talks between management and fire crews narrowly averted unofficial action at Tynemouth and Hebburn. According to Mr Bull, the crews were due to work-to-rule once their shifts began at 5pm yesterday, in solidarity with firefighters who took part in work-to-rule protests at those stations and at Wallsend earlier in the afternoon.

Unofficial sources among the workforce said West Denton, Fossway, Swalwell and Birtley stations were also hit by the work-to-rule action.

Yesterday's dispute flared up across the country after it emerged that the second stage of a firefighters 16pc wage rise will be paid in two parts - 3.5pc on Friday and another 3.5pc in the New Year after it is approved by the Audit Commission.

Firefighters were answering emergency calls only and refusing to take part in training, community safety or other activities.

Mr Bull said last night that the situation had been resolved and all firefighters were working normally but warned the service could not afford a repeat tonight. He said: "If fire crews stop doing fire safety inspections and maintaining their equipment then they are compromising the safety of the general public.

"Any form of unofficial industrial action is unacceptable and illegal and puts the public and the firefighters themselves at risk.

"We are in a period of heightened risk. What I really need is firefighters out there on the streets giving advice on dangerous bonfires. If they are working to rule or only answering 999 calls they can't be doing the important bit of driving down the risk."

Mr Bull added that firefighters should be balloted on whether or not to take official strike action - as they were exactly a year ago - if a planned meeting of the FBU's national executive this Thursday stalls.

He said: "I'm also saying that they should await the outcome of the national negotiations over the next 48 hours with the FBU national executive meeting on Thursday and find out exactly what the position is and what the offer is.

"By speaking to the firefighters and using common sense and reasoned argument, we have managed to get them to return to their professional functions. …

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