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Local services :: Fire service
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THE LATEST proposals for job cuts in the fire service is New Labour once more carrying through the Thatcher revolution in attacking public sector pay and conditions.
One of the proposals is to amalgamate control rooms. This is not as simple as it sounds. Control staff have skills directly related to the service they work for. We would not expect the fire control staff to give specific medical advice to a patient over the phone and the same goes for ambulance staff giving advice on fire brigade calls.
These proposals are just the start of a longer term plan to unite the fire and ambulance service. But the ambulance and fire services answer quite different calls. If the fire service is dealing with flood or structural damage they don't need ambulance staff. Likewise ambulance staff would not need a fire pump if dealing with a patient with a heart attack at home.
Ambulance service staff have no problem with fire staff taking on more medical skills. We think it's correct that a defibrillator should be carried on pumps. But not at the expense of an ambulance being called.
For all the talk of modernisation and efficiency, when somebody picks up the phone in an emergency they want to know that a vehicle and crew is standing by ready to deal with the call. If it's a heart attack they want an ambulance to turn up with the right drugs and equipment.
Government plans for the fire service are not about saving lives but saving money.
If you're having a heart attack you can choose to press 1 or 3. If you press 1 and it's after 6pm then you should be prepared to wait until a full fire crew have arrived at their nearest station.
If you press 1 and the fire is major and it's after 6pm, please ensure that garden hoses are available for us to use as only one fire appliance will be made available to you. If you press 1 and someone is trapped in the fire and it's after 6pm, please ensure towels are soaked in water and a member of the public is available to go into the fire to rescue any firefighter who gets into trouble. This is because only one breathing apparatus crew will be made available to you.
If you press 3 and you or someone else is having a heart attack, do not be surprised if the ambulance you expect looks a bit like a fire appliance. You can still be resuscitated but you will be required to hold tight on top of the appliance en route to hospital. (Seats inside are reserved for the crew only).
If you have pressed 1, 2 and 3, please ensure all insurance policies are in order. On doing so you will hear the message: "Please hold the line we are trying to connect you, the person you are calling knows you are dying."
WHEN JERRY Pagan, the chair of South Yorkshire FBU spoke at a Sheffield Socialist Party public meeting, he exposed some of the truth about 'modernisation':
"It's the union that has pushed for the employment of more women and black and ethnic minority firefighters. They talk about modernisation, we've still got fire stations without separate toilets and showers for female members.
"The Fire Cover Review was a three-year investigation into the fire service commissioned by the Audit Commission. Its findings were due out in the summer but have been suppressed because they say the opposite of what the government wants to hear. Instead of cutbacks it recommends an increase in the fire service budget from £1.6 billion to £3.8 billion."
Sid Platts, the FBU Branch secretary in Kentish Town fire station told The Socialist: "As far as the government is concerned this dispute is purely about cuts, not just about our pay campaign. In London in the last 20 years, we've seen operational firefighter posts reduced from 7,000 to 5,700. We've lost 40-odd pumping appliances and four fire stations have been closed permanently.
"In the last two years fire deaths have increased in the capital for the first time since World War Two. And there has been an increase in the population year on year, in the number of incidents we attend and the varieties of incidents we attend."
THE HOME Office published a document in 2000, called "The Future of Fire Service Control Rooms and Communications in England and Wales". After a detailed study, they rejected the idea of joint control rooms because:
TONY BLAIR was on the propaganda trail to an army fire station in Darlington last week. He said: "We have learned a lot about how the armed forces have coped while the firefighters have been on strike."
He meant trying to force firefighters into an army-style 8-day 96-hour week and having joint emergency control rooms.
But what was really learnt from 'Operation Fresco' was:
Troops did not do many jobs usually carried out by firefighters, including:
Lt Col Napier, commanding troops in the West Midlands remarked for example that trying to tackle a big fire in West Bromwich had showed them "they had not understood the complexities" of tackling such fires.
WHEN HEALTH secretary Alan Milburn announced 'Agenda for Change', a pay and 'modernisation' offer to health workers, he claimed: "It is about paying more to get more so that staff who take on new responsibilities get extra rewards. This is a something for something deal."
The press statement was headed: "Agreement reached on NHS pay reform."
But NHS unions have pointed out that no agreement has been reached at all. The government spinners were just desperate to put pressure on the firefighters by 'proving' that another group of workers were prepared to accept cuts and increases in workload in return for a pay deal.
In fact as the reaction of health workers below shows, the deal is not a forgone conclusion. The UNISON health group executive passed two resolutions giving full support to the firefighters and said that formal consultation on the offer ie a special conference and a ballot would not begin until the firefighters' dispute was over.
THE BOTTOM line is a 3.2% pay rise. Extra money is, as always with New Labour, for the future, contingent on modernisation. All this stuff about a ground-breaking agreement leading to dramatic pay rises for over a million workers is irrelevant.
"Agenda for Change" is a complex job evaluation scheme, a regrading exercise. Management will assess your suitability for further pay increases on basis of your willingness to be flexible - in other words - nurses will do junior doctors' duties for a wee bit of extra cash.
The fact is that after four years in discussion Agenda for Change will not answer the immediate issue of low pay and poor pay in the NHS.
Brown has been crystal clear, public sector investment isn't going on pay.
No, far better it goes to the likes of Jarvis with over £10 billion in PFI contracts and a monthly pre-tax profit of £3 million to continue the privatisation of the public sector.
The timetable for implementation is set for 2004, workers need to be consulted and an agreement reached. It is simply false for claims to be made about a scheme yet to be set in place.
New Labour want to isolate the firefighters from other workers in the public sector by proclaiming that the issue of pay is being resolved in the health service. The fact that it isn't is neither here nor there.
We should mobilise NHS staff, as the FBU have, behind a genuine campaign of action to improve pay.
THE MAJORITY of UNISON members working for the NHS stores agency, NHS Logistics, earn between £10,000 and £18,000. The prospects of a 10% pay deal over three years will be horrendous for everyone.
By a simple calculation, each year's increment will be less than last April's 3.6% pay award.
Many UNISON members remember the previous three-year deal, in which the final increase was dependent on the inflation rate in December 2000. We were left with around 3%.
Gordon Brown has admitted that all his financial forecasting from last April is now up the creek and he has been forced to borrow more money.
Why should we accept any deal over three years? Nobody now believes the government figures on inflation and economic growth will be anywhere near their targets for the next year, let alone three.
Like what has happened in the firefighters' strike, it will be the government who will be tearing up the agreement when the figures are not going their way and using words such as 'modernisation' - which now means cuts in public services and job losses for everyone.
Local services keywords:
Care Homes (43)
Fire service (71)
Article dated 6 December 2002
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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