William Eichler 12 December 2019

Surrey firefighters vote for Christmas industrial action

Firefighters in Surrey have voted in favour of industrial action short of strike over the Christmas period in order to fight against local authority cuts.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) say they have ‘exhausted’ all other avenues in their attempts to stop what they describe as ‘dangerous cuts’ to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).

The cuts, which include removing seven fire engines at night-time and cutting 70 firefighter posts, were approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting in September.

The industrial action will include a ban on overtime, a refusal to stand in for understaffed senior roles, and a refusal to use non-operational vehicles, including the use of firefighters’ private vehicles for brigade purposes.

‘Underfunding has become endemic in SFRS, with bosses depending on the goodwill of firefighters in a failed attempt to meet basic standards. Our goodwill has run dry,’ said Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary.

‘We’ve had huge support from the community so far in our campaign and we ask that Surrey residents stand with their firefighters through this difficult period. These cuts will make all of us less safe.’

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘Surrey County Council have insisted that the cuts are not financially driven, so we’re calling on them to increase the staffing levels to crew all of Surrey’s fire engines 24/7, rather than cutting seven engines to meet the current staffing level.

‘Firefighters across the country stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Surrey. This is not the Christmas many firefighters will have planned for, but we must do everything necessary to protect our fire and rescue service.’

Responding to the FBU’s announcement, an SFRS spokesperson said they were ‘disappointed’.

‘We are disappointed that the decision by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is to go-ahead with action short of strike, given the efforts being made by the service to establish a resolution to the current trade dispute,' they said.

‘Action short of strike means that firefighters will withdraw from certain duties such as voluntarily undertaking overtime, crewing one of our trial vehicles, taking responsibility for their kit (personal protective equipment) and undertaking some training.’

The spokesperson reassured residents that the action was unlikely to have a ‘significant impact’ and that they were meeting regularly with the Fire Brigades Union.

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