Bullying backfires as FBU members stiffen their resolve to take action against cuts


Essex fire chiefs today stand accused of trying to intimidate firefighters by introducing fast-track disciplinary measures to use against those taking strike action.

In an email seen by UnionNews, HR director Lindsey Stafford-Scott invites Essex Fire Service managers to attend a special ‘investigation skills’ workshop, saying: “With the FBU’s current strike action it is possible that the Service will see an increase in potential misconduct cases. It is important that these are dealt with swiftly, robustly and most importantly consistently.”

She attaches interim guidance which states all disciplinary procedures must be completed within 21 days, and only allows employees one day to find someone to represent them.

The new guidance says: “In determining what is reasonable, consideration will be given to unnecessary delays to the investigation process. It is expected that no investigation meeting will be postponed for more than 24 hours due to a representative being unavailable.”

The changes have been announced just days before talks with ACAS to resolve the three-year dispute.

Keith Handscomb, NEC member for East Anglia, told UnionNews: “The new disciplinary arrangements maybe within the limitations of the ACAS code, but outside the normal standards of justice used in the fire service. It’s just another change adding to the culture of fear within the Essex fire service.

“My members tell me this culture of fear has been increasing over the three years of the dispute, making Essex Fire Service an unpleasant place to work. Firefighters and officer members tell me that if you have a professional view that differs from your superior, you’re in trouble because threats of discipline and dismissal hang over anyone who objects to any of the proposed cuts or changes. I have never known such a level of intimidation.”

But he says the bullying has backfired, serving only to stiffen the resolve of members who have already taken one day’s strike action, and plan to take four more.

Keith Handscomb said: “What the managers and politicians should remember is firefighters, by their nature, are courageous people who are willing to risk their lives by running into burning buildings to save people.

“They are not going to let the intimidation crush their courage. Yes, there is a climate of fear in Essex, but my members are standing up against it – that’s why you had such a solid strike last week. Firefighters are opposed to the cuts and offended by the way they’re treated.”

The brigade’s training officers have also been told of fresh changes imposed on them to temporarily relocate anywhere across Essex at short notice. A similar imposition on frontline fire crews is already a part of the dispute and fire chiefs have now extended this to a whole new part of the workforce again without any prior consultation or agreement.

The union accused senior managers of acting like playground bullies because fire crews have dared to stand up against the frontline cuts and impositions. The union said the actions were inflammatory and fanned the flames of the dispute.

FBU regional secretary Adrian Clarke said: “While we are preparing to work hard with ACAS and the national fire service conciliators to try and resolve this dispute, managers are taking inflammatory action. Instead of taking the heat out of the situation they seem intent on fanning the flames of conflict. It now seems senior managers are cranking up the climate of fear within the service in a desperate bid to silence any professional opposition to their cuts and impositions.

“Clearly, none of this will assist in resolving the dispute. It is almost as if some senior managers are trying to derail this week’s talks before they’ve even begun.”

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