Tripartite Agreement Collapses
It has now become apparent that the tripartite agreement between the National Employers, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) which has been in operation since March 2020 has collapsed.
We had been aware around mid-December, that the NFCC had withdrawn from the agreement due to a number of stipulations put forward by the FBU that were deemed unreasonable. It appears that the National Employers have come to the same conclusion as the agreement expired on 11 January 2021 without further national consensus between the two parties.
NFCC were asked to develop robust risk assessments for the continuation of the COVID support arrangements and we were consulted on these documents, as were other unions, and we were broadly content with the proposals, the FBU was not.
The main stumbling block being the requirement for firefighters to be detached from their fire service duties while undertaking support work for the NHS. On the one hand this may appear to be a reasonable request, whereby the FBU was seeking assurances to provide greater protection for their members. However, no such arrangements have been in place in a number of fire and rescue services since the start of the pandemic and there is no evidence that this has had a detrimental impact. Added to this, detaching firefighters from their normal fire service role, would and in some services has, caused appliances to be unavailable, putting the public at risk. There is also evidence that these detachments have caused a reduction in pay, specifically for On-Call firefighters where their fire service earnings were not being protected.
We represent firefighters across the UK and always take a universal approach to our policies and how we represent our members. The needs of our members vary, dependent on the area in which they live and work. Rather than be driven by one service (London), which seems to be the approach taken by the FBU, we prefer to listen to the ask of our members on a service-by-service basis. The ask and expectation of firefighters in London will be very different to our members in Cornwall or Lincolnshire.
As an organisation we prefer to work effectively with our partners to the benefit of our members and the public, which is why we have been involved in Co-Responder Schemes for over 20 years while others are still arguing as to whether it’s the right thing to do. We have taken the same approach during the pandemic, seeking to find solutions so that our members, who wish to can provide the necessary support to the NHS.
Our local officials have worked tirelessly and professionally during the last nine months, to the point where in some services those wishing to assist the NHS have already been vaccinated, and Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) are readily available to ensure their safety and the continuation of their fire service duties.
The FRSA fully appreciates the importance of our members safety, but we are also fully aware that during a pandemic, there needs to be an element of common sense and balance regarding what is workable and what is over and above what is reasonable to function as an emergency service. Firefighters are trained using the following adage:
‘We may risk our lives a lot, in a highly calculated manner, to protect saveable lives’
We take the same approach during the current pandemic as we do in our firefighting duties.
We also understand that not all firefighters are willing to volunteer to assist the NHS due to personal circumstances and beliefs, and these different views must be and are respected. However, where our members are willing to volunteer, as an organisation we will provide these individuals with the necessary support to enable them to do so by entering into local agreements which adhere to our own red lines in terms of, training, PPE, H&S and working arrangements.
The FRSA has been involved in these local agreements for many months and we will continue to monitor them in the coming days and weeks. We are also open to entering into further agreements in other services where there is a mutual benefit and an ask from our members.
The country remains in the height of a global pandemic, and in our view this is not the time to engage in politics but to ensure that we as an organisation and our members who wish to volunteer, are able to provide the necessary support to the NHS to play our part in protecting and saving lives.
In the months and years ahead, we need to be able to look back upon this unique situation and be proud of our actions and the decisions we took, knowing that we did all we could during the public’s time of need.
If you have a query or concern regarding the arrangements to assist the NHS, please do not hesitate to contact your local FRSA representative or FRSA HQ directly. If you are not a member of the FRSA and feel that our approach to the pandemic and our values are broadly in line with yours, why not join us?
You can click the ‘Join Now’ link at the top of the page.
Our offer to you
A new information leaflet is available encapsulating the key benefits of being a member of the FRSA. The document is available via our website and we would recommend that this is shared with your colleagues on station.