By a Unison member
UNISON members in West Yorkshire Fire Authority are facing a dispute with their employers, in what could be the start of an employers' offensive in the fire service strike.
The dispute arose when they were instructed to attend Carlton Barracks in Leeds to carry out maintenance on reserve fire appliances, which had been secretly removed from the Authority's HQ over the weekend.
The fitters and mechanics, who are members of Kirklees UNISON branch, were asked if they would drive all spare fire appliances from the HQ to Ripon, on overtime, on Saturday 30 November, so the army could train on them during the week before driving them to Leeds to use during the strike.
The mechanics all refused this invitation to help their bosses break the firefighters' strike.
Management then said the workers would be instructed to do the work on Monday. The workers called in their union, and a meeting was arranged for Monday morning. Then, without informing the union, the Authority had the vehicles moved on the Sunday!
West Yorkshire has ten reserve fire appliances. Currently, five of the reserve appliances are in use, and the remaining five have been handed over to the military, leaving the fire service in West Yorkshire with no backup . The action has been condemned by the FBU Brigade Secretary, Sean Cahill, who commented, "This has now left us with no spare fire engines for the whole of the County. This decision is not only operational madness, but it is a provocative move."
The UNISON members were then told to attend the barracks in Leeds, and carry out maintenance work. Since that would involve them working in inappropriate conditions, without their usual equipment, and in an environment that has not been checked by health and safety reps, they refused. Paul Holmes, UNISON branch secretary, explained, "The instruction to work at Carlton Barracks is outside our members' contractual duties, since they are employed to work at the fire stations."
Stepping up their provocation, West Yorkshire Fire Authority has threatened the UNISON branch with the anti-union laws, claiming the refusal to travel to army barracks was secondary action. Managers have suggested they might move half of all the 110 fire engines in use in West Yorkshire, and have said to the mechanics, "what will you do then?" But West Yorkshire have not yet used the anti-union laws against the mechanics.
Employees in other authorities are likely to face similar provocation in the weeks ahead and all of them should follow the example of the Kirklees mechanics. Don't break the strike!