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News : Fire Chief Claims 999 Call Centre Beds Row is “Unresolvable
Essex, UK, March 17, 2015 — Fire chiefs claim a row with 999 call workers is "unresolvable", particularly as staff have demanded beds are brought in so they can sleep during breaks.
Members of the Essex Fire Brigades Union are in the middle of a nine-day strike in a protest about working conditions.
Since January, operators have worked on a 2-2-4 shift pattern, which involves two 12- hour day shifts and two night shifts, followed by four days off.
But the union has criticised the "unsociable" working arrangements and believes the system is harming young families and people with care responsibilities.
However, Adam Eckley, acting chief fire officer, said: "If they want the dispute resolved with the provision of beds, it is unsolvable and I have told staff that.
"We built a facility without beds and that decision has been known for the last four or five years."
Bosses would be flexible with staff about start times for shifts if there are childcare issues, but the service had no plans to abandon the 2-2-4 system.
The restructuring of the control room has seen the number of operators reduce from 44 to 32, but the fire service said this was achieved with voluntary redundancies and redeployment, rather than compulsory lay-offs.
The current FBU strike involves 19 of the 32 operators.
But Mr Eckley said: "My prediction is this strike will be extended to 28 days because that is what has happened in Merseyside.
"We have arrangements in place to manage and it is not costing us any more.
"We will continue to build our resilience, but ultimately there will be a decision to make.
"They chose to sign contracts based on the new system, but if they really don’t want to do so, do they want to leave the service?"
Control operator Emma Turnidge, who is an Essex FBU rep, said: "Control operators in Essex cannot accept the new shift patterns which have forced a number of professionals out of work, and led to many of us having to reduce our hours or job share.
"No one here wants to strike, but the local fire service have left us no option.
"The working shift pattern is untenable and we are united in our stand against it."
A new computer system for handling 999 calls has been rushed into action and is causing delays in responding to incidents, the FBU claims.
The union claims there have been incidents in Basildon, Colchester and Orsett where response times have been hindered by the failure of the computer system.
Essex FBU chairman, Riccardo la Torre, said: "This system is not fit for purpose. It was simply rushed in before it had been proven to work and public safety is being put at risk as a result.
But Mr Eckley said: "There have been glitches, but that’s normal. The reality is we are still taking calls from the public and if the system goes down we can still take calls over the phone and write it down."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2015