Fire-fighters Fighting EU Rule To Maintain Retained Service

PUBLISHED: 11:48 10 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:46 04 May 2010

THE number of fire-fighters in Ely, Sutton, Soham, Burwell and Littleport could be decimated due to a tightening up of EU employment law. Retained fire-fighters are currently allowed, under the EU s Working Time Directive, to opt out of a rule which says

THE number of fire-fighters in Ely, Sutton, Soham, Burwell and Littleport could be decimated due to a tightening up of EU employment law.

Retained fire-fighters are currently allowed, under the EU's Working Time Directive, to opt out of a rule which says employees can only work a maximum of a 48-hour week.

Under current law, any employee of UK-based company can opt out of the Working Time Directive, but the European Parliament wants to close the loophole, making sure all employees work an average of 48 hours per week.

The system has already led to an improvement in working conditions for junior doctors, but in the case of fire-fighters, some believe it could harm public services.

Graham Stagg, Chief Fire Officer for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue said:

"The European Directive has largely overlooked the effect on the fire and rescue service, and in particular, on the retained service which provide a significant proportion of emergency cover in the UK."

More than half of the fire stations in Cambridgeshire, and all but one of the stations in East Cambs, are staffed by retained fire-fighters.

"The removal of the retained duty system would require a fundamental review of fire cover in Cambridgeshire, which will inevitably increase costs," added Mr Stagg.

Jim Paice MP has joined the call to keep the veto. "I am deeply concerned by the European Parliament's decision to scrap the UK's opt-out to the Working Time Directive," he told the Ely Standard.

"Scrapping the opt-out is bad for public health and safety, because it threatens to curtail the valuable service volunteer fire-fighters provide to Ely, Soham, Burwell, Swaffham Bulbeck, and many other communities around the country, and it is bad for the British economy, because it will have a serious detrimental effect on the flexibility of our labour market and the competitiveness of British business.

"Whilst I believe wholeheartedly in looking after the rights and wellbeing of workers, I also feel that it should be up to the individual concerned whether or not to volunteer as a fire-fighter. Many people become retained fire-fighters to support their community, to forge new relationships or in search of a new challenge; they do not view their responsibilities as a tiresome burden.

"The retained fire-fighter system we have here in the UK should not be penalised because it provides pay, sick pay, pensions and paid leave. It is right that retained fire-fighters, who are on call at a moment's notice and who may be required to risk their lives to save others, should be offered some form of reward in line with their full-time colleagues."

Retained fire-fighters usually have full time jobs, but spend anything up to 120 hours a week on call, ready to deal with an emergency.

Countries such as France and Belgium rely on voluntary fire-fighters to staff their emergency service in rural areas, so British MEPs are worried that they will find little support for Britain's retention of the veto amongst their European colleagues.

A decision is likely to be made in June.

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