13/11/2002

'No justification' for firefighters' strike says Browne

The Minister with responsibility for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Des Browne, has said that there is absolutely "no justification" for the "dangerous and damaging industrial action" planned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Speaking at a press conference announcing emergency response measures in Northern Ireland for the duration of the strike, Mr Browne said it was extremely unfortunate that, despite the government’s best efforts to meet the needs of firefighters through an Independent Review, and intensive negotiations, the firefighters were determined to press ahead with strike action.

Mr Browne said: "The Independent Review has examined the whole issue of pay and modernisation and has proposed a fair and realistic recommendation linking real reform with a pay increase amounting to 11% over two years.

"The Bain Review proposes a perfectly sensible set of reforms, like joint control rooms with other emergency services, allowing part-time and full-time staff to crew the same engines, ending the ban on pre-planned overtime, and considering alternative shift patterns to encourage others to join the Fire Service and better reflect the pattern of risk.”

He said that employers had supported this recommendation and that with inflation running at just over 2% and average public sector settlements at just over 3% it was a "generous offer" which many people would think was very good.

Mr Browne commended the police and the armed forces for all the hard work they have put in over recent months to provide alternative fire cover, but he said while these alternative arrangements could not replicate normal firefighting capabilities, they would minimise as far as possible the danger to human life.

He said there was particular concern about the capacity of the alternative fire cover to deal with serious road traffic accidents and major fires. He said assurances had been sought from the union that they would be prepared to respond to such incidents during the strike action.

The 48-hour strike by firefighters is planned to begin at 6pm on Wednesday 13 November and is the first of a number of such planned periods of industrial action.

“It is, however, important to emphasise that we all have a role to play in minimising the risks created by strike action. It is more important than ever that people take additional precautions to protect against the risk of fire, that they take extra care when driving and, perhaps most important of all, that they fit and maintain smoke alarms in their homes."

He said it was also important that people understood that 999 should continue to be used in an emergency requiring the Fire Service.

(SP)

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