South Yorks Firefighters threatened with sack over shift changes

South Yorks Fire dispute: formal letters sent threatening to sack firefighters if they will not accept shift changes.

The South Yorkshire Fire Authority has today sent letters to over 700 firefighters saying they will be sacked if they do not accept the changes to their contract of employment. Fire crews have been given until January 18th to respond.

Fire Brigades Union accused the authority of bringing the tactics of Victorian pit owners to the fire service for the first time. It says firefighters are angered at the move and will consider their response at a meeting this Friday.

The move flies in the face of an agreement reached on 4 November to declare the previous threat to sack firefighters as ‘null and void’ and instead to take the dispute over shifts to binding arbitration at ACAS once the terms of reference had been finalised.

The Fire Brigades Union has given the fire authority until 9am on Friday to honour its agreement to seek binding arbitration at ACAS. The union’s campaign committee, representing fire crews from all stations and workplaces in South Yorkshire , meets at 10am to consider any response from the fire authority.

The letters, which started arriving with firefighters today makes clear firefighters who do not accept the changes will be sacked and only re-engaged on the basis of new contracts which include the changes. Those who are not re-engaged on those terms including the changes will remain sacked.

The letter outlines a move to new interim shift arrangements on 1 May with a full move to 12 hour day shifts on 1 August. It includes a £500 one-off payment, withdrawn if the individual takes part in any industrial action including strike action.

The letter also makes clear the fire authority has broken off talks, saying simply that they “have now concluded without success.”

The letter states: “if you decline to accept the changes as specified above then…you will shortly thereafter receive formal correspondence providing you with notice of the termination of your existing contract of employment and, at the same time, offering you re-engagement on a new contract of employment with the revised start and finish times incorporated.”

Fire Brigade Union Regional Secretary Ian Murray said: “The voters of South Yorkshire will be disgusted at the way the fire authority is treating firefighters. These are the worst kind of bully-boy tactics from the worst kind of Victorian pit owner.

At every stage managers have wanted to impose change by diktat rather than by agreement. This latest move shows they have sunk to a new low even for them.

The fire authority has once again taken the path of confrontation. They have ripped up an agreement to take the issue to binding arbitration and withdraw the threat to sack firefighters to force through changes.

The FBU sent a letter to SYFR confirming its commitment to binding arbitration and they responded by sending letters threatening our members with the sack.

There is real anger among fire crews and I would expect a public backlash against the fire authority. What they have done is a disgrace and has no place in modern industrial relations.”

At every stage they have sought to impose changes rather than negotiate, tactics which went down badly with firefighters.

The FBU is still hopeful that SYFR come to their senses and recall these threatening letters and honour the agreement both sides made on 4 November 2009.

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