National round-up, 02 December 2014

Correspondence from Fire Minister
On 24th November Penny Mordaunt wrote the latest in a series of open letters to all firefighters concerning the firefighter pension scheme 2015, covering the expectations of those who might face Ill-health retirement. The scheme provides greater ill-health and death benefits, placing fitness principles on a firm statutory footing. An audit of FRS implementation of fitness principles, a working group on fitness, upon which the RFU will be represented. Improved workforce management, greater support for those suffering from mental health issues including PTSD, together with the challenges facing women in maintaining their fitness.

We will be providing a response to the current consultation document ‘Firefighter Fitness Standards and Assessment’, which proposes to provide greater protection for operational staff who through no fault of the own, cannot maintain the required fitness standard.

Brigade Visits by National General Secretary (NGS)
Following the circulation of the analysis in the RFU survey on recruitment and retention, NGS John Barton is in the process of visiting a large number of FRS, meeting with strategic leadership teams to discuss the surveys outcomes and potential for improving availability and easing the workloads on stations with limited crew availability. Whilst we agree that there is no ‘magic wand’ which will bring about improvement, these visits demonstrate our commitment to joint working with services for mutual benefit.

Against this positive environment it is disappointing to learn that some services continue to down play this duty system, almost to the point that it is beyond repair, we have even heard comments that the Wholetime service is more cost-effective that the RDS! It is no wonder that some services struggle with retained establishments if their duty system is constantly being undermined by their senior management.

Our visits are ongoing and will continue into the New Year, it is important that genuine good practice is identified and shared throughout the FRS sector.

Adrian Thomas, Independent Conditions of Service Review
Thankfully, we remain confident that should Adrian Thomas in his ‘Independent Review of Conditions of Service’ choose to speak to the more Retained reliant FRS, Mr Thomas will see ample evidence of services heavy dependent on the RDS stretching every sinew to provide a professional, passionate cost-effective service which meets the local need.

We have made representation to Mr Thomas highlighting the fact that RDS staff play a key role across the country but despite legislation and supportive national reports, some FRSs still treat their RDS establishment poorly leading to issues with recruitment and retention. Such attitudes need to be challenged as there is plenty of positive action being taken in a number of brigades to prove that with the right approach, these issues can be overcome and provide greater expansion of the RDS.

The terms of reference for the review can be found here.

Social Networking
We have in the past raised our concerns with members as to the use of social media and specifically how publicly accessible your accounts are and the inclusion of detailed pictures of your fire service employers.

There continues to be a growing interest in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However there are pitfalls which you need to be aware of as some of our members have recently discovered. Few people realise that posting pictures, opinions and revelations on a website could possibly land them in hot water with their employer; however there is always a risk that someone could take offence and report it.

As a member of the emergency service, the public expectations on staff are higher, we after all are seen as a disciplined service. It follows therefore that any picture which links the user to their employing FRS and if accompanied by other pictures or comments which could be interpreted as sexist, racist, crude or similar will result in a disciplinary investigation and action being taken, sometimes resulting in dismissal. We are advised that FRSs are quite right in alleging that such comments and pictures bring the Fire Service into disrepute and are treating these as misconduct.

As a result of there being investigations and hearings relating to social networking, it must not be forgotten that the service does have an obligation to its staff. Many employers are now recognising the legal issues and the need for policies which give clear guidelines on the use of such sites. Failing to do so could leave the employer with a legal challenge and damage to the reputation of the organisation.
Our advice to all members is:

  • Check your privacy settings so you know who can access your posts, comments and pictures
  • Do not write anything on a social media site that you wouldn’t say in public
  • Think twice when posting local FRS related pictures, asking yourself whether ‘others’ would view them as a ‘conflict of interest’ or could bring your local FRS into disrepute
  • If in doubt don’t post!

We also advise that you check with your FRS that they have a written policy and if so familiarise yourself with it.

Shaping the Future
Over recent months we have received a positive response from members and non-members to our regular information bulletins. As the ‘dispute’ continues it is becoming more and more apparent that we genuinely represent the interests of RDS employees, this is contributing to a welcome increase in membership.

There are currently many opportunities open to RDS personnel which need to be engaged with. If for no other reason than to ensure that the duty system has a long term future. In its current form the RDS has become too prescriptive and inflexible. Only the RFU is driving the ‘Retained’ agenda and we are determined to continue to highlight the challenges and help to promote the benefits and potential for our members.

If you would like to play a part in shaping your future and are not currently a member, you can join today.

Thank you.
John Barton OBE
National General Secretary