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Navin's News: Fire Brigade Strike

Brian Coleman to be questioned over freebie dinners with strike-breaking firm

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By Ross Lydall

Fun and games are expected at Thursday's meeting of the London fire authority.

First, a delegation of women firefighters will protest outside the 2pm meeting to demand the reinstatement of Sian Griffiths, who has been suspended on an alleged charge of bullying a strike-breaking woman colleague.

Ms Griffiths, 50, right, described by the brigade as a "trailblazer", was escorted off the premises just two days after receiving the Queen's Fire Service Medal at Buckingham Palace. She has received more than 600 messages of support since I broke the story last week.

The meeting itself could prove awkward for the authority's Tory chairman, Brian Coleman. Darren Johnson, a Green member of the London Assembly, is demanding an investigation into two notorious incidents of firefighters being injured on the picket line during the two recent FBU walk-outs.

(i) Question 257 from Councillor Darren Johnson AM (Green Party):
Will the Chairman request the Commissioner undertakes a formal investigation, including an independent element, of the following reported incidents during industrial action on 1 November: 1 of 3
a) firefighter hit by a car at Croydon Fire Station, and withholding of first aid equipment; b) FBU London representative and firefighter hit by fire engines at Southwark Fire Station
And will the Chairman ensure that the findings of such an investigation are published?

UPDATE Nov 19: At yesterday's meeting Mr Coleman answered: "No." Darren Johnson accused him of "pouring oil on the flames" of the unresolved fire dispute by suggesting axeing 27 engines, describing the proposal as "just plain barking mad". He told Mr Coleman: "You have become so addicted to conflict it's become your way of life... it's become a drug for you."

In addition, Labour's Navin Shah is asking a potentially embarrassing question about the (declared) hospitality received by Mr Coleman from Asset Co, the private firm that won a £12 million deal to provide emergency fire cover and whose contractors stood in for striking firefighters.

The dinners, at Shepherd's restaurant in Westminster, a favourite hang-out of MPs, were all from Asset Co chief exec John Shannon (left). In January this year the pair changed venues - opting instead for Green's restaurant in Duke Street, Mayfair.

It could of course be argued that it made sense for the pair to meet regularly in advance of signing a contract using such vast sums of public money. What's more, the sums are modest - more than can be said of the bill racked up by former FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist at the Cinnamon Club. I also expect Mr Coleman, right, to have worked out with lawyers in advance how to rule the question out of order. Here's Navin's question:

Councillor Navin Shah AM (Leader, Labour Group):
The recent press coverage concerning the hospitality outlined below which was received by you from Asset Co prior to the award of a contract:
· Lunch to a value of £25 on 30 October 2007
· Dinner to a value of £50 on 23 July 2008
· A Harvey Nichols hamper to a value of £350 on 24 December 2008
· Dinner to a value of £40 on 19 January 2009
has been highly critical. Do you now accept that these actions reflect poor judgement and a lack of sensitivity on your part and will you now assure Londoners that such damaging conduct will not be repeated in the future?

UPDATE Nov 19: Mr Coleman replied: "I would have thought that the Member would have used the Chairman's Questions opportunity to raise important issues of Authority policy." He added: "My entirely proper relationship with AssetCo will continue."

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16th November 2010

Labour rival calls for Mayor Boris Johnson to sack Barnet's Brian Coleman as head of the London Fire Authority

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By Alex Hayes

THE leading Labour representative on the London Fire Authority has called on Boris Johnson to “reconsider” Brian Coleman's position as chairman.

Navin Shah, the Brent and Harrow London Assembly member, welcomed firefighters calling off today's planned 47-hour walkout after a dispute about hours.

The Fire Brigade Union and LFA will now sit down for talks later this month, with hopes of a resolution to the problem.

Mr Shah said: ““Mayor Boris Johnson and his confrontational and aggressive fire authority Chairman have massively hindered the negotiation process.

“The Mayor should take control of this situation and re-consider Brian Coleman’s position.

“The longer he is in place the less likely it is an agreement will be reached to bring this dispute to an end.”

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5th November 2010

Firefighters call off Bonfire Night and Diwali strikes

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By James Cracknell

HARROW and Brent have been spared a potentially dangerous clash of Diwali, Bonfire Night and a strike by firefighters as union bosses called off the industrial action over fears for public safety.

The Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) and the LFB have now agreed to sit down to try and resolve their differences at an independently chaired meeting on November 16.

Union leader Matt Wrack said the strike was called off amid growing concerns over private contractor AssetCo's ability to cope and fears for public safety,

He said: "We have listened to the concerns about public safety and we have watched the work of the private contractors who are supposed to protect Londoners with mounting concern."

London fire commissioner Ron Dobson said: "My intention has always been to reach an agreement on proposals that will make Londoners safer and firefighters safer.

"Going to an independently-chaired body to help us seek a way forward is a step in the right direction."

LFB issued a notice to 5,500 London fireifighters in August explaining that their existing contracts would be terminated in November, with new shift patterns and working conditions issued instead.

The brigade had earlier won a High Court injunction placing restrictions on FBU picket lines, to allow stand-in crews from AssetCo to access fire stations unobstructed.

Reacting on Friday (5), Labour’s leader on the London Fire Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) said he welcomed the FBU’s decision.

Kenton East councillor Navin Shah, also London Assembly member for Harrow and Brent, said: “This is excellent news.

"I very much welcome the positive and responsible approach by the FBU in agreeing to the mediation meeting on 16 November.

"I have been urging all parties to get round the table and talk as nothing short of a negotiated settlement will do.”

Mr Shah had ealrier slammed fire brigade bosses for their treatment of firefighters.

“Mayor Boris Johnson and his confrontational and aggressive fire authority chairman have massively hindered the negotiation process.

"The mayor should take control of this situation and reconsider Brian Coleman’s position.

"The longer he is in place the less likely it is an agreement will be reached to bring this dispute to an end.”

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5th November 2010

Striking firefighters in Hendon and Finchley welcome support during eight hour walk out

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By Kevin Bradford

FIREFIGHTERS at picket lines today welcomed the public's support towards their strike and urged Brigade bosses to hold further talks in a bid to avert future action.

Crews across the borough stood outside their fire stations in a show of solidarity against the London Fire Brigade's (LFB) plans to change shift patterns under the threat of redundancies.

Dozens of staff turned out this morning at each station for a peaceful protest after 11th hour talks between the LFB and the union collapsed.

Steve Renny, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) representative for Finchley station, said: “We are all disappointed we didn't reach an agreement yesterday.

“We don't want to be out on strike today or on November 5, but if that is what it takes to hold on to our jobs.

“We are hoping the public will be behind us and realise this isn't about money, it is purely about our start and finish times and getting a good time for our members and their families.

“We will talk to them but without the threat of the sack. Remove that, and we would call off the strikes immediately.”

Fire brigade union bosses said yesterday the London Fire Brigade (LFB) “point blank refused” to lift the threat to sack 5,500 firefighters.

Crews from Hendon Fire Station set up a stool outside their station in The Burroughs, and were receiving beeps and waves of support from passers by.

Shaun Powell, the station's union representative, said: “The response from the public has been very good. People have been supportive of us.

“We are always disappointed we have to strike. If it was avoidable then we would do it. We are all prepared to change, but we don't want change for change sake.

“We all accept changes to shift patterns are going to happen, but that negotiation should not be done with a gun to our heads.”

Cover throughout the day was provided by private firm AssetCo, and crews were located at Tottenham and Wembley to respond to 999 calls in the north London area.

But Mr Renny said if AssetCo staff had been drafted into his station, there would have been no displays of aggression.

He said: “If they had come here, we would have let them know what they're doing and politely asked them not to cross the picket line.

“We just wanted to explain that our jobs are at risk.”

A statement from the LFB confirmed the contingency plans were rolled out this morning and that all 162 contract staff providing fire and rescue service across London were available or waiting to be deployed by 11am, an hour after the strike started.

A total of 27 fully crewed appliances were operating and responding to 999 calls across the city until 6pm when the strike ends.

Navin Shah AM, Labour Leader on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, today urged the union to re-think their strike, planned for bonfire night, and called for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to replace the authority's chair, Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman.

Mr Shah said: “The confrontational, unnecessarily aggressive approach of Brian Coleman has been matched by the absence of Boris Johnson. It’s been a complete shambles. Relations with the union should never have reached this dire state.

“The best way to diffuse the current situation would be for the Mayor to install new leadership at the Fire Authority and engage with the FBU.”

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1st November 2010

Plea to end fire brigade dispute

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By James Cracknell

A HARROW councillor has called on London mayor Boris Johnson to end the 'deplorable' stand-off between firefighters and their bosses.

While Harrow and Brent escaped unscathed from Saturday's strike, another is due to begin on Monday and a contentious third has been pencilled in for Bonfire Night weekend, one of the busiest of the year.

If the increasingly fractious negotiations between the London FireBrigade (LFB) and the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) come to no resolution before November 26, 5,500 firefighters face being sacked.

Councillor Navin Shah (Kenton East) sits on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority board, opposite its Conservative chairman Brian Coleman.

He told the Observer this week: "There has been a complete vacuum at the political level, including the mayor of London.

"I have been demanding all along that the chairman and the mayor open adialogue with the FBU."

The industrial dispute centres on a bid by the LFB to terminate existing contracts and re-issue firefighters with new shift patterns and working conditions.

Mr Shah said he blamed the mayor for conspiring with Mr Coleman, the Conservative fire chairman Mr Johnson appointed in 2008, on the termination of contracts.

He continued: "This is deplorable. It is the third biggest fire brigade in the world, you would have thought they wouldn't want a major confrontation.

"It doesn't help with the kind of language the chairman is using: 'either you sign up or your contract will be scrapped'.

"The change to shifts does need to happen, there isn't a disagreement about that, but it is how you go about it.

"My fear is that both the mayor and the chairman have been spoiling for a fight."

But Mr Coleman has denied that the decision to sack firefighters was about making job losses. "The FBU have placed firefighters in a terrible position," he said.

"We asked for a meeting with national negotiators on November 5, and the union has responded with a strike.

"There are no cuts, no job losses, this is about reducing a 15-hour night shift, adding those hours to the day shift and doing more community safety work and firefighter training."

Mr Shah himself admitted the choice of date for a 47-hour strike was inappropriate. He added: "It is unfortunate they have gone for November 5, which also happens to be Diwali, when Hindus celebrate with fireworks.

"I understand they want the strike to bite but I think they have miscalculated it."

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28th October 2010

Firework displays jeopardised over strike

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By Glenn McMahon

FIREWORK displays across London could be jeopardised after firemen announced plans to strike over bonfire weekend.

FIREWORK displays across London could be jeopardised or forced to scale down after firemen announced plans to strike over bonfire weekend.

Brent Council’s safety officers ruled the annual event in Roundwood Park could go ahead without a bonfire.

A spokesman for Brent Council said it would consider hiring a private fire-company as cover depending on the cost.

London’s 5,600 firemen will also walk-out on Monday, November 1, as the dispute over working conditions continues.

Strike action was voted for after employers, the London Fire Brigade, sent out formal notices, in August, stating contracts would be terminated if negotiations were not completed within three months.

Firemen would then have to reapply for their jobs under new contracts.

The LFB says it has been trying to agree changes to shift patterns and ‘outdated’ allowances to make more time for community safety work and training.

The Fire Brigade Union says talks were progressing but were forced to take action over the shock move.

The Government announced a 25 per cent cut from fire and rescue service budgets last week over the next four years but said this figure could be reduced if flexible working arrangements, pay restraint and recruitment freezes were implemented.

On Saturday, London fire-crews picketing stations were replaced by 27 fire-engines and 162 contracted firemen.

However, London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, accused strikers of harassment, intimidation and violence towards the contractors.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said the accusations were unfounded.

A decision on whether to allow the termination of contracts or to extend negotiations will be taken by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, made up of 17 London Councillors and two mayoral appointees, at a meeting on November 18.

Navin Shah, London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow and leader of the Labour group on the LFEPA, said: “The problem is a lack of political leadership. They have been spoiling for a fight; London doesn’t need it. We should be looking at how we can diffuse the situation and then see what the best way forward is.”

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26th October 2010

London Firefighters announce strike dates

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By Martin Hoscik

 

London firefighters are to stage two eight-hour strikes in a row over new employment contracts which would see changes to the lengths of their shifts.

 The Fire Brigades Union announced on Thursday that members in the capital had voted by 3,482 to 943 to take strike action unless Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson “withdraws his letter of 11 August which began the legal process of sacking the capital’s 5557 uniformed and 41 non-operational firefighters.”

The union has now confirmed its members will strike from 10am on October 23rd and November 1st. Speaking earlier this week FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said “Firefighters hate going on strike – but they hate being bullied even more.”

Ahead of the ballot result the London Fire Brigade announced it had “withdrawn” 27 fire engines from stations across the capital “to prepare for the introduction of a contingency fire service” in the event of a strike.

Responding to the announcement of the strike dates. Cllr Coleman said: “Firefighters are going to be striking over plans to reduce a 15 hour night shift by three hours, and add those three hours to a 9 hour day shift. That is all these proposals seek to do, no station closures, no increase in hours and no change to the four day rest period between shifts. This is about making more time in the day for vital training and fire prevention work.

“We’ve been discussing this for five years and have offered to compromise, so it’s time for the FBU to stop blocking these changes.”

Navin Shah, London Assembly member and Labour’s leader on the Fire Authority said the strike was “bad news for Londoners” and claimed it could have been averted with better leadership.

Shah called on Cllr Coleman and Mayor of London Boris Johnson to “get round the table now and avoid a strike that nobody wants.”

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15th October 2010