Tyne and Wear Fire chiefs and union leaders clash over controversial crewing system
Fire chiefs have hit back after being accused of attempting to 'cherrypick the law' over controversial crewing arrangements at two stations.
Bosses at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority (TWFRA) have warned taxpayers may be hit in the pocket and could see services overhauled if staff don’t formally agree to continue the current system.
But leaders of the Fire Brigades Union say they cannot support so-called ‘day crewing’ following a legal challenge in 2018 which ruled it breached employment rules.
“The shift system they currently employ is unlawful and it’s breaking the law because of the Working Time Regulations,” said Russ King, the union’s Tyne and Wear brigade secretary.
“We highlighted this many moons ago with the fire authority – 2011 was our first letter to the then chief fire officer highlighting our worries.
“The fire authority cannot cherrypick the laws they want to break or do not want to break and entering into a workforce agreement will not prevent that.”
Mr King was speaking after a TWFRA meeting on July 15, which heard the system, known as ‘Day Crewing (Close Call)’ (DCCC) in Tyne and Wear, was ‘working well’ and saving a ‘considerable amount of money’.
DCCC has been used at Birtley since 2013 and Rainton Bridge since 2014.
Under this, crews work 24-hour shifts, staying in purpose-built accommodation at their stations.
In a letter to fire chiefs, the government’s Health and Safety Executive said any brigade using such systems would be breaking the rules ‘unless they have entered a collective or workforce agreement’.
“Reversing this would put at risk fire engines at other stations and may potentially mean less cover,” said TWFRA vice chairman Nick Forbes, “it’s a policy which has helped increase [workforce] diversity and I cannot understand why the Fire Brigades Union is being so dogmatic.
“It seems they’re at odds with their membership and I urge them to get around the table and talk to us in the best interests of their members – that’s not just good for the staff but also for the public of Tyne and Wear.”
Mr King warned the authority’s ‘aggressive language’ could set back negotiations, but added he would keep looking for a ‘workable solution’.