Fire-fighters to serve notice of industrial action that could escalate to all-out strike

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Anne-Marie Walsh

FIREFIGHTERS are set to serve notice of industrial action on local authorities nationwide on Monday that could ramp up to an all-out strike.

Siptu will inform the chief executives of 31 local authorities that the “retained” part-time firefighters will begin with a work-to-rule on June 6.

This will escalate to rolling strikes from June 13 and an all-out strike from June 20 if the dispute over pay and conditions is not resolved.

The firefighters – who work part time – decided on the details of the campaign of action at a meeting of Siptu’s retained firefighter national committee today.

It follows a ballot in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay, recruitment and staffing levels.

Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien said local discussions would take place if there are strikes, to ensure there is a contingency plan to provide a reduced level of service.

The union represents almost 2,000 retained fire service workers across 200 fire stations.

Mr O’Brien said there are full time officers across the retained stations, who are employed as station officers. He said the union will issue them with guidance in advance of the industrial action.

He said firefighters’ earnings have fallen because there are fewer call outs, as they are paid an allowance. In addition, he said many are unable to take annual leave due to staff shortages.

Mr O’Brien said the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage had published recommendations that would mean more “structured” pay arrangements, but had failed to table a plan to implement the proposals.

“Discussions on recruitment and retention fell far short of the recommendations published earlier this year by the department, particularly around annual leave and structured pay,” he said. “Our members are taking industrial action with a heavy heart. “The local authorities and department said they recognised our concerns were legitimate but failed to table substantive proposals on the problem.”

He said members had voted on average by more than 90pc to take strike action.

A spokesperson said the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is very aware of the challenges associated with the recruitment and retention of retained fire personnel being experienced by some local authorities.

“This is the reason the minister directed the Management Board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management to review the delivery and sustainability of the local authority ‘Retained’ Fire Services, with particular emphasis on the recruitment and retention of staff,” he said.

“What is clear from the findings of the review report is that the work/life balance of retained firefighters needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of retained fire services as an attractive employment option."

He said work is underway to begin implementing the recommendations in the report to include engagement with staff representatives.

“I understand that during the most recent facilitation discussions held with LGMA and Siptu substantial progress was made on the provision of a revised model of retained fire service delivery that would provide for both an effective service delivery, and a suitable work/ life balance for retained firefighters, including structured time off and flexible work arrangements,” he said.

“While a positive conclusion to the process to the satisfaction of all parties has not yet been reached, Minister O’Brien encourages all parties to continue to engage constructively on resolving the outstanding IR issues within the established forum.”