South Yorkshire fire chief fears longer periods of strike action

James Courtney
James Courtney

South Yorkshire fire chief James Courtney fears firefighters may stage their longest period of strike action to date if their pensions dispute with the Government is not resolved.

The Chief Fire Officer spoke out after a four day period of strike action called by the Fire Brigades Union covering the weekend before Bonfire Night - traditionally the busiest of the year.

Crews around the country walked out over an ongoing row with the Government over their pensions.

Firefighters have been asked to pay more into their pension pots and to work longer but to get less than expected on retirement.

They are also concerned at the lack of jobs for firefighters no longer deemed fit for the frontline.

Because fire crews work a four day shift pattern, Mr Courtney said he fears future industrial action could be escalated to an eight day strike.

“The law of averages dictates that you get large incidents periodically and periods of strike action and that both will occur at the same time at some point - that’s my biggest concern,” he said.

“Inevitably there will be in some quarters a belief that the only way forward is to escalate this action. This action was for four days and my concern is that we might be confronted with an eight day period of industrial action next time.”

He said he hoped the FBU and Government could resolve their dispute.

“I would urge both parties to continue their talks and find some sort of a solution to this,” he added.

“Every time we experience a period of industrial action the people of South Yorkshire are less protected by the fire and rescue service than is normally the case.”

He said a team of around 50 contingency firefighters - fire officers not in the FBU and volunteers who have received firefighting training - responded to 150 incidents over the four day strike, which started on Friday and ended yesterday.

They dealt with three collisions in which casualties were trapped.

Many were based at TA centres across the county for the full 96 hour stretch.

Mr Courtney said he was ‘concerned’ when the FBU called the strike in the run up to Bonfire Night and was ‘relieved’ when it was over, but said contingency crews ‘responded very well to the demands asked of them’.