Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Drums and whistles protest as Firemen seek withdrawal of No 6 ultimatum

Some 40 uniformed City Fire Brigade fireman many wearing specially made T-shirts lobbying for public support yesterday gave No 6 Convent Place and everyone in its vicinity an ear-bashing as they blew whistles and banged drums for two hours until moving away at 11am.

Despite complaints from some commercial outlets and the Courts, Royal Gibraltar Police decided against moving in on the protest.

The firemen who are seeking an update on pay and conditions for the back-up ambulance service they provide, made clear yesterday that they would lift their action if the Government lifted its “14 day threat.”

Government has warned fire fighters that it may withdraw the ambulance provision arrangement altogether if their last offer is not accepted by Friday April 29.

“This is not acceptable to the ACTS union,” said a statement issued by the union yesterday. It declared that the firemen would not be intimidated and announced selective industrial action. At this stage the latter involves firemen refusing to carry out training and reduction of maintenance to a minimum. However, all emergency callouts are being attended to.

The firemen also accused the Government of attaching little importance to the business of saving lives but promised to continue to provide their service to the public “despite provocations.”

They claim the grievance arose when Fire Control Operators were given better conditions without the fire-fighters knowing, thus changing the pay differential that had previously existed.

“Because of this, in December 2003, we submitted a claim to Government asking for the exact same annual allowance, currently £1,863, to restore pay differentials,” said the firemen adding that Government has accepted the claim “within the parameters of the original agreement of 1999 yet their offer falls short by 5.6%.”

They say they are surprised that after four months of negotiations they had received a take it or leave it ultimatum from Government and say that this “arrogant attitude” will now affect future negotiations submitted by other departments.

In a bid to prove their claims that Government is bullying them the firemen have produced an extract from a letter dated April 15 2005 in which Government warns:

“If the offer is not accepted within 14 days of the date of this letter, the offer as a whole will be withdrawn. The Government will then consider exercising its right to terminate the involvement of the fire fighters in providing cover for the delivery of the ambulance service altogether.”

Despite Government statements to the contrary, the firemen say they have had a role in the past providing such a service.

“Since 1998 City Fire Brigade personnel have been manning the third ambulance, firstly on a voluntary basis and subsequently covering for first and second ambulance in the interim period when St John’s took over from the RGP. This trend continued due to staff shortages in the St John’s Ambulance Service.”

Whilst Government said there were only two callouts a week the firemen produce figures where the average is around 8 weekly callouts.

“The CFB ambulance mobilisation procedure requires the third ambulance to attend all road traffic accidents and rescues in conjunction with St John’s Ambulance,” said the union members adding that this is in addition to the other coverage.

“Call outs are not as rare as Government claims,” said the firemen who go on to set out “what the Government has not mentioned.”

Here they point out that under a 1999 agreement the CFB mechanic section was included as it maintains the entire fleet of eleven vehicles belonging to St John’s. This includes work converting new vehicles, refurbishment, repairs on a 24/7 basis, body work and painting as wells as routine maintenance and servicing. They say that these works currently cost Government nothing and that removing these duties from the mechanics to private contractors would be an enormous cost. They have carried out major works on ambulances from between 50 to 73 times each year since 2001 and accuse Government of failing to mention the work that goes on behind the scenes. This also includes training to the level of first responder as recognised by the GHA.
Two years were spent training the fire fighters and they point out other tasks including restocking of life saving equipment and regular checking. They have had inoculations against possible diseases that could be contracted whilst on ambulance duties and say that few people have expanded their workload as dramatically as a result of the ‘expanding Gibraltar’.

Wives's Support

Meanwhile wives of the firemen told the Chronicle that over the years their husbands had taken on responsibilities such as abseiling, diving, all MOD areas bar the airport, and even crossing the border in support of the Campo all out of a sense of professionalism.

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