Chief praises his firefighters for their dignity during FBU row

Mon 8 Dec, 2014

Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones has praised Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s firefighters for not being drawn into a row with the Fire Brigades Union.

It started after Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority drew attention to an administrative error on a strike notice issued by the FBU in advance of four days of industrial action due to start on 31 October. After seeking advice from local FBU officials about the legality of the notice, firefighters came to work as normal. One firefighter did not and he was dismissed.

In an online video last week, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service would have taken the FBU to court if it really thought the strike was unlawful. 

Mr Jones said: “Mr Wrack appears to be trying to shift the blame for a basic administrative error made by the FBU. As I explained to everyone who asked at the time, we did not need to take the FBU to court because, after seeking clarification from their local FBU branch, all bar one of our staff didn’t go on strike. Also, our contingency arrangements were good, so why would we waste taxpayers’ money seeking an injunction to prevent a strike which wouldn’t really have affected the service? 

“Nationally, the FBU wasn’t confident enough of its own legal advice to give its members here any reassurance to strike, and no legal challenges to our stance are yet apparent.”

Addressing other issues raised in the video, Mr Jones said:

“Contrary to Mr Wrack’s assertions, it’s not aggressive, hostile or victimising to ask staff to follow the law and the democratic will of the taxpayers of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. Ensuring that our workforce acts in a legally compliant way is a requirement of all senior managers. The responsibility of a trade union is to ensure that it protects its members by issuing legally compliant notices. In this case it did not.

“There is a reason why strike notifications have to be correct. This is to allow us enough time to plan to ensure that the safety of the community is not compromised. The FBU did not do this properly on the occasion in question. 

“At no time have we had any problem with the issues in dispute behind the strike action. We were the only fire and rescue service in which senior managers spoke out in defence of firefighter pensions, and we did that long before the strikes started. 

“We do, however, have a significant problem with the FBU deciding to target our taxpayers by stopping work and expecting them to pick up the bill for the plans we have to put in place to maintain emergency cover."  

Of a rally and march the FBU is planning to hold in Aylesbury tomorrow (Tuesday 9 December), Mr Jones said:

“The real purpose of such demonstrations is to try to put pressure on local members of the FBU, which we see as a form of bullying. As the managers of this organisation, we defend people who are being bullied and challenge the bullies.

“If, as Mr Wrack claims, the FBU’s legal case is watertight, we will deal with the matter through the courts. No amount of abuse, lobbying or demonstrating by the FBU can alter such proceedings. I am sure that the police have enough to do this time of the year, and I call upon Mr Wrack to call off this demonstration as it wastes taxpayers’ money at a time when budgets are already stretched.

“We have been impressed, however, with the dignity and style with which our own firefighters have made their case during their union’s pension dispute with the Government. 

“As I look towards retirement early next year, I remain convinced that the vast majority of our staff are great people who try their best to do a good job. More and more of them are choosing not to take strike action each time the FBU calls a strike. I truly hope that they do not continue to lose wages for a cause that has been fought so ineptly by their union that they never had a chance of winning. 

“The FBU Executive Council members who are driving the continuation of this dispute are losing nothing, while the good firefighters of this service are set to suffer once more. They deserve better representation.”