Barnet mayor: Firefighters are striking over alcohol
Susanna Wilkey LONDON firefighters have been outraged by Barnet Mayor Brian Coleman's claim that their industrial action is really about not being able to drink before going on duty. The Camden and Barnet Assembly Member and chairman of the London Fire an
LONDON firefighters have been outraged by Barnet Mayor Brian Coleman's claim that their industrial action is really about not being able to drink before going on duty.
The Camden and Barnet Assembly Member and chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) has criticised the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) action, which begins today.
Mr Coleman said: "This strike has nothing to do with what the FBU claims it to be about. It is entirely due to LFEPA's decision to ban the drinking of alcohol before a firefighter comes on duty - a move that the FBU was against.
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"Of course they can't and won't say as much because the decision is the right one and I'm sure it has wide public support, so the industrial action is dressed up as some spurious issue to do with management style. It's not. It's all about a firefighter being able to have a pint before going on duty. We're not going to change our decision."
But the firefighters say a dictatorial management style with random alcohol testing and reduced payments for firemen is the reason for the campaign of industrial action - which will stop short of a full strike.
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Ben Sprung, FBU regional organiser who represents Camden, said: "It is ludicrous. I am an operational firefighter and the very last thing I would do is go into a situation with someone who is drunk.
"People like Brian Coleman are able to hobnob and think they are above the law. That man has no real concern for the real workers and no concern for the taxpayer."
The FBU says there is no evidence of a drink or drug-related problem within the fire service and it agreed months ago to a new drugs and alcohol policy which sets the limit for drinking before work at the same level as the legal drink driving limit.
It says this strike is protesting against a militant style of management which it says is ignoring them especially on issues of random alcohol testing and subsistence payments.
Mr Sprung continued: "Fire-fighters are angry that when we go to training courses we cannot have our lunch or travel paid for while Brian Coleman is wasting thousands of public money on taxis.
"They now want to introduce random testing with alcohol limits three times as stringent as the drink-drive limit, so you could have a situation where a firefighter comes to work, is randomly tested by a private company, has a tiny amount of alcohol in his system and is reprimanded - but can then drive home legally."
FBU members voted by nine to one for industrial action, beginning with bans on non-contractual overtime and acting and temporary promotion appointments.
Regional official Paul Embery said: "The dispute has been brewing for months following a series of attempts to worsen our conditions of service. We are always reluctant to take action but there comes a point when you have to start forcing your employer to pay attention.
"The brigade cannot forever get away with treating us with contempt. Treat people like cattle and you are going to get kicked. The brigade just got kicked.