The Fire Brigades Union has rejected a HM Inspectorate of Fire and Rescue Services report into the response of the 45 fire services across England to the pandemic as a “political and biased attack on firefighters”.
Matt Wrack responded to allegations made in the report published today, which claimed that “restrictive” working arrangements agreed between the union and employers had “prevented or delayed” deployments supporting the Covid response.
The general secretary criticised the findings of the report, describing the conclusions as being neither evidence-based nor independent and argued this morning that the document is “full of untruths and omissions”.
“The FBU has from the start wholeheartedly supported the response to the pandemic,” Wrack said. “And as a result of agreements delivered by the union, firefighters have been able to take on significant areas of additional work.”
He highlighted new roles taken on by firefighters in the public health crisis including driving ambulances, moving the bodies of the deceased and delivering supplies to health and care providers and vulnerable people.
The trade union and employers agreed on December 9th that firefighters would take part in the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines but the arrangement collapsed over contested risk assessments and safety measures.
Employers were pushing to remove the requirement for those returning to the station from high-infection risk Covid work to get a negative PCR test. They also rejected a number of alternative proposals put forward by the FBU.
Matt Wrack added: “The message from this report is clear: fire chiefs and the government don’t want workers to have a voice over their own safety or their terms and conditions.
“That’s why employers, advised by fire chiefs, tore up a national agreement containing vital safety measures. This report is being used to undermine a trade union they consider a nuisance because it wants to keep its members safe.
“It is remarkable that in the same breath the inspectorate claims the FBU produced ‘unnecessarily detailed’ safety requirements and also that large staff absences driven by outbreaks ‘didn’t materialise’ in the fire and rescue service.
“How does the inspectorate think these outbreaks were prevented? It was a direct result of paying serious attention to workplace safety by the FBU and its members.”
The HMICFRS report accused the firefighters’ trade union of urging its members not to volunteer with the NHS test and trace system and the roll-out of the Covid vaccine. Wrack has denied both allegations.
He explained: “On December 9th, the FBU and employers signed an agreement that said should a request be received for support with vaccinations, that both parties ‘will move quickly to support such a request’.
“Our priorities throughout this pandemic have been to ensure firefighters can safely support their communities, the NHS, and the care sector.
“That means protecting their health but also the services they work in which continue to respond to emergencies. A service with 11,000 fewer firefighters than a decade ago cannot afford for this virus to run rampant through fire stations.
“The FBU wants firefighters to continue supporting the pandemic response but sadly it seems the inspectorate, doing the bidding of the government and fire chiefs, is more intent on attacking our trade union and helping to undermine the terms and conditions of firefighters.”
Several Labour left MPs have defended the FBU, including Richard Burgon, Nadia Whittome and John McDonnell. McDonnell tweeted: “I know who I trust in this. It’s the firefighters who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.
“All the FBU has asked for is employers adhere to agreed safety standards to protect firefighters as they deliver for our community in this crisis. I stand with firefighters.”