MEMBERS of the Dublin Fire Service are being forced to avail of income assistance, their union leader has claimed.
John Kidd, National Secretary of the union's full-time fire officers' committee, has said that more than 50 of his colleagues require welfare assistance to pay their bills.
Unions representing fire service workers have served strike notice over pay and conditions that they claim led to the early retirement of 108 workers last year.
Mr Kidd has called on the Government to intervene and ensure that they don't lose highly skilled workers to other countries.
"There are 53 of our members on income assistance because they are not earning enough money to pay their bills," he said.
"We have the problem that the fire service has a 17-year income scale and a lot of members bought homes at the height of the Celtic Tiger.
"This is worse than the 80s, it's horrendous, and I'm getting depressed about it at this stage.
"Some of our members are getting €500 a week and paying back €1,650 a month in mortgage repayments, meaning they have €350 to live on for the month.
"Here we are in a position where our workers are working week to week and our payments are being missed, it's disgraceful.
"They are really trying to push our buttons and the result of it will be that we won't be able to organise cover when we begin our industrial action.
"We lost 108 staff last year, 12pc of our workforce, that compares with 1pc leaving the public service overall."
Mr Kidd warned that it was costing a lot of money to train new recruits who are being forced to look for employment abroad.
"These young kids that are highly skilled are being poached by countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, countries where you can buy a home for two and a half times your income and not 10 times your income like it was here.
"These young people are being worked to death and they're not getting what they deserve.
"Basically, there is no future for these young firefighters in Ireland. It takes two years to train our workers as paramedics and other countries are benefitting from it.
"This year we have 30 workers due to retire but I would not be surprised if this number exceeded 100 again."
Mr Kidd maintains that fire service workers must get better treatment in the interest of fairness.
"I've turned into a social worker here, I'm organising and advising my colleagues on how to avail of welfare assistance and it's simply to try and keep them from leaving the country," he said.
"These people are putting their lives on the line for their community.
"Our workers get treated like dirt but they are still the hardest working in the world as far as I'm concerned.
"We operate 12 ambulances in Dublin and they deal with on average 8,000 cases a year each. In America, if an ambulance deals with more than 5,000 cases, an enforcement order is put in place."