WEST Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has paid out more than than £1.4m to provide contingency cover during 49 firefighters’ strikes over the last 18 months.
Yesterday’s 24-hour firefighters’ strike across England – part of a long-running dispute over pensions – is estimated to have cost the West Yorkshire fire service £15,000.
Specially recruited community response operatives were once again drafted in to help man a reduced fleet of 24 to 27 fire engines alongside none striking firefighters.
Assistant chief fire officer Steve Rhodes, said: “We are now in the 49th strike, the first one being in September 2013, almost 18 months ago.
“The last strike was over two months ago and it’s surprising and of concern that the strikes continue and that an agreement has not been reached between the Fire Brigades Union and the government.
“To date the strikes have come at a cost of over £1.4m. This can only be detrimental to the efficient and effective running of the service.
“There are also unquantifiable costs such as damage to staff morale and to the reputation of the service. We hope this dispute can be resolved as quickly as possible in order for the fire service to move forward.”
Paul Drinkwater, chairman of West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union, was with 2,000 firefighters from across England at a rally in Westminster yesterday to protest about changes to pension schemes.
Mr Drinkwater said: “We have now got a Labour controlled fire authority which is employing a strike-breaking force with community response operatives. They are only trained to deal with minor fires under the supervision of one of our strike-breaking officers. They haven’t had the opportunity to have trade union representation.”
Mr Drinkwater added: “We are not disputing firefighters will have to work until they are 60 to get their full pension entitlement. What we are saying is that people need access to their pension earlier if they fail a fitness test.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the strike was “unnecessary” and contingency plans were in place to deal with emergencies.
In West Yorkshire, contingency crews attended 25 incidents during the first 10 hours of yesterday’s 24-hour strike, which started at 7am. Deputy chief fire officer Steve Beckley, said: “Fortunately we have had no life-threatening incidents.”