EUROPE’S THREAT TO COUNTY FIRE SAFETY
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EUROPE’S THREAT TO COUNTY FIRE SAFETY

Concerns that European rules will make it make it more difficult for the fire and rescue service to protect local people have led Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff to put his weight behind a House of Commons motion aimed at protecting on-call or “retained” firefighters.
Peter explained,

“In Worcestershire we depend very heavily on these retained firefighters – but they face being prevented from doing their job due to changes in European legislation.”

“The motion I have signed highlights a problem that is threatening retained fire crews across the United Kingdom but is particularly worrying here in Worcestershire. That’s because retained firefighters are used more in rural areas.

“Currently, the European Working Time Directive places a general limit of 48 hours on the working week, although employees who wish to work more can arrange an “opt-out” with their employers. The European Parliament, however, has voted to abolish the opt-out. This could have a disastrous affect on retained fire crews, most of who have different full-time jobs, using up their 48 hours, and serve as firefighters in their spare time.

“The aim of the Working Time Directive may be honourable, but its impact in many areas of the public services could be disastrous. It aims to prevent exploitation of employees by putting a cap on the number of hours they are compelled to work but, rightly, in its present form employees are able to opt-out of the directive. Taking away that ability will affect all the many thousands of people, who choose freely to work longer hours. But worse still, it could affect lives.

“Limiting the working week to just 48 hours would leave many of our retained firefighters unable to serve as they currently do. When you consider that 60% of the UK emergency cover comes from retained firefighters you can see the scale of the problem.

“The Government must continue in their efforts to safeguard the opt-out. Failure to do so could have potentially catastrophic results”.

ENDS

Notes:

The National Fire Service describes retained firefighters as the “… group of men and women who are 'on call' to respond to a range of emergencies when their alerter / bleeper sounds. The call may be to fire, flood, road traffic collisions, chemical spills and more. In fact, incidents attended by wholetime crews are incidents attended by retained crews. Many retained firefighters will have other full or part time occupations, but when the call comes they are ready to drop whatever they are doing and become part of a team. They work alongside full time firefighters. Although they are 'part-time' they are trained and capable people saving lives and making headlines.”

The Early Day Motion Peter has signed relates specifically to Scotland but also makes the more general points. It reads as follows:

EDM 552
That this House notes with regret the vote by the European Parliament on 17 December 2008 which voted in favour of removing Britain's Working Time Directive opt-out; further notes with serious concern the removal of this opt-out will have on retained firefighters across Scotland, and the consequences the removal of the opt-out may have on public health and safety; further notes that of 391 fire stations across Scotland 321 are staffed by 3,429 retained firefighters; further notes the valuable service these volunteer firefighters provide to their communities; further notes that the Retained Firefighters Union (RFU) opposes the removal of the opt-out and that if the opt-out is removed and retained duty system fire stations are proven unviable under the Working Time Directive, 91 per cent. of the UK land mass will lose valuable emergency fire cover; and further notes the serious and potentially fatal consequences the removal will have on communities across Scotland.


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