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Fire Union Seeks Bonfire Night Strike on Job Worries

The U.K. Fire Brigades Union has called for a strike in London on one of the busiest days of the year for firefighters in protest over plans to change working conditions, which it has said will cost members their jobs.

The union has called its members to strike from 10 a.m., Nov. 5, on Britain’s Bonfire Night, to 9 a.m., Nov. 7, for a total of 47 hours, it said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The firefighters already staged an eight-hour walk-out on Oct. 23 and plan to hold another eight-hour walkout on Nov. 1.

The London Fire Brigade said it was examining contingency plans for the day and would have a “minimum” of 27 engines on duty. The brigade has 169 fire engines.

“The FBU have placed firefighters in a terrible position,” Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said in an e-mailed statement today. “We had asked for a meeting with national negotiators on Nov. 5 and the union have responded with a strike.”

Bonfire Night is an annual celebration in the U.K. held to mark the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of Nov. 5, 1605, where Guy Fawkes and other conspirators attempted to destroy the Houses of Parliament in London. It is marked with the use of fireworks and lighting of bonfires.

On Bonfire Night, firefighters receive and attend twice as many calls than on an average day, the London Fire Brigade said in an e-mailed statement. On Nov. 5 last year, the brigade was called out to fight 224 fires, while firefighters were called out to quell 66 fires the day before.

Contract Changes

The strike action follows a request by Ron Dobson, the London Fire Brigade Commissioner, to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the FBU in August, asking for a formal consultation to terminate firefighters’ existing contracts and offer them new ones. The FBU has said this process is aimed at cutting some of the 5,557 uniformed and 41 non-operational firefighters.

“We do not want to take this action but we have no choice,” said FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. “The long term safety of Londoners depends on a well-trained, self-confident firefighting force.”

The FBU said all of London’s firefighters supported the strike on Oct. 23. Cover for the strike was successful, a spokeswoman for the London Fire Brigade said yesterday. The brigade, the largest fire and rescue service in the U.K., said all 162 “contracted” emergency workers were deployed, with 27 fire engines responding to 49 incidents, including several fires.

The proposals seek to reduce a 15-hour shift by three hours and add those three hours to a nine-hour day shift, Coleman said on Oct. 15.

‘Bonfire Night’

“What sort of union orders its firefighters to go on strike over Bonfire Night?” Coleman said in a statement. “The emergency fire cover did what we expected it to do the first day, and will do so again.”

On Oct. 23, emergency cover was provided by AssetCo Plc, which signed a five-year 9 million-pound ($14.2 million) contract with the brigade to provide “contingency level” services, according to the brigade.

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