FBU members receive standing ovation at TUC Women’s Conference

Control operators on strike in Essex, March 2015. Pic courtesy FBU

Control operators on strike in Essex, March 2015. Pic courtesy FBU

999 fire control operators in Essex have extended their strike action to nine days.

Originally taking place for 72 hours, the strike was extended to last eight days before another day’s strike was announced yesterday. It will now finish at 7am on March 19th.

The news comes the same day as the plight of Essex control strikers was raised at the women’s TUC conference taking place in London today.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The attempts by Essex Fire and Rescue Service to impose shift changes on key control staff could easily result in any workers with caring responsibilities being simply unable to continue to work there.

“We know that women have been badly hit by the recession and by falling standards and quality of employment – increasingly facing low paid, low skilled and precarious work.

“These are good quality jobs, with women providing a valuable and professional service. The TUC urges the Essex fire service to properly consider the alternatives proposed by the Fire Brigades Union and enable these women to remain in decent employment.”

A standing ovation from delegates followed.

Emma Turnidge, an Essex control operator and FBU rep, said the extension demonstrated the strength of feeling between members: “Control operators in Essex cannot accept the new shift patterns which have forced a number of professionals out of work, and led to many of us having to reduce our hours or job share.

“No one here wants to strike but the local fire service have left us no option. We will lose more than a week’s wages but the working shift pattern is untenable and we are united in our stand against it.

“The fire service is completely ignoring cost neutral alternatives that would go a long way to resolving this dispute.”

A new shift system was imposed on fire control operators, the vast majority of whom are women, leaving them with no choice but to work unsociable 12 hour shifts to stay in full time employment, seriously affecting their home lives and impacting detrimentally on those with young families and other caring responsibilities.

The imposed shift system also coincided with the introduction of a new dispatching system, used to send the appropriate fire engines to incidents, which has suffered from repeated IT failures forcing operators off computers and back to using pen and paper.

Jo Byrne, who represents control staff nationally on the FBU’s executive council, said: “A lot of control staff in Essex have complained of being bullied by fire service managers who are blaming them for the IT failures.

“The new dispatching system is clearly not fit for purpose. It was not vigorously tested before it was put in place and now our control staff and the public are paying the price.

“After an imposed shift system, which has caused so much turmoil with family lives, control operators face the stress of working with a system that crashes constantly.

“Anyone would understand the stress this causes. Dispatching fire engines to a house fire never knowing if the system you’re using is going to work. This is completely unacceptable.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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