Emergency 999 control operators in Essex today begin an eight-day strike over changes to their shift patterns.
The FBU members – most of whom are women – are angry at having to leave their jobs or drastically reduce their hours and pay, with many more considering their future with the service.
Riccardo la Torre, chair of the FBU in Essex, said: “Essex County Fire and Rescue Service like to portray themselves as a modern employer. However here they are forcing professional women out of their jobs and making life intolerable for many of those who remain.
“The vast majority of the control operators are women, many with young families and caring responsibilities. They have professional careers that they need to balance with their family lives.
“These shift changes are unfair and completely unnecessary as there are alternatives on the table that cost the same but would be more manageable for all those working in the control room today and in the future. It’s time the fire authority listened to their control staff properly and for common-sense to prevail.”
Jo Byrne, who represents control operators throughout the UK on the FBU executive council, said: “Despite the willingness of Essex control staff to accept compromise, Essex fire service management have just forged ahead and imposed the shift changes anyway.
“We celebrated International Women’s Day this past Sunday. These shifts disproportionately affect women with young families, and a number of our members have been forced to leave the service, whilst others have had no choice other than to reduce their hours and pay to fit in with available childcare.
“It’s not lost on anyone that the decision to impose the unworkable shift system into the Essex control room was taken by a senior management team consisting predominantly of middle-aged men who have no intention of working the shift system themselves.”
Serious concerns have also been raised about the numerous IT failures and complete breakdowns in the new mobilising system resulting in control staff having to take details of emergencies on pen and paper in order to despatch fire engines.