Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 18:05 UK

Fire crews to strike over shifts

Firefighters in training
The fire service said the changes would allow staff to have more training

Fire crews in South Yorkshire have voted in favour of strike action over the planned enforcement of changes to their shifts.

The fire service wants staff to work 12-hour day and night shifts instead of nine-hour days and 15-hour nights.

The Fire Brigades Union balloted its members on strike action after staff who continued to refuse to work the new shifts were threatened with dismissal.

Firefighters voted five to one in favour of strikes, the union said.

Out of the 683 votes cast, 565 members voted for strike action, 116 voted against and there were two spoilt ballot papers.

Nobody here is losing their job, nobody is losing any money, and nobody will have to work any extra hours
Mark Smitherman, chief fire officer

Crews started industrial action, including a ban on overtime, in June in protest against the planned shift changes.

The decision to ballot for strike action came last month, after the fire service said it would issue staff with new contracts and dismiss them if they refused to work the new shifts.

The fire service said the move was a "last resort".

FBU regional secretary Ian Murray said: "South Yorkshire firefighters and officers have sent a clear message that they will not be bullied.

"If we gave in to these tactics, our employment contracts, pay and conditions, become worthless.

"The last thing firefighters want is to take industrial action, but we will not accept mass sackings as a way of forcing through changes to our contracts."

Mr Murray said strike dates had not yet been set "to allow some further opportunity to reach agreement".

He added: "The fire authority needs to decide if they are serious about an agreement or if they want a strike."

Earlier this week the union put forward an alternative option of 10-hour day shifts and 14-hour night shifts.

Contingency plan

The fire service is considering the proposal.

South Yorkshire's chief fire officer, Mark Smitherman, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the strike vote.

He said: "Nobody here is losing their job, nobody is losing any money, and nobody will have to work any extra hours."

Mr Smitherman said the changes would increase productivity and provide 50% more training time for firefighters.

"They would provide £4m per year in extra services to make the public and firefighters safer, without putting a penny on council tax," he said.

"This decision to vote for strike is a completely disproportionate reaction to a change which will make public and firefighters of South Yorkshire significantly safer."

Mr Smitherman said there were plans in place to ensure emergency response services were maintained if last-ditch negotiations proved unsuccessful.

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Fire crews vote for shift action
24 Apr 09 |  South Yorkshire

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