Statement on behalf of Kilkenny County Council
This industrial action is part of a national dispute by SIPTU members of the Retained Fire Service. Please see below previously issued nationally by the LGMA on behalf of local authorities in response to retained firefighter industrial action.
Kilkenny County Council’s priority throughout this process is to ensure employee and public safety. A contingency plan is in place, which is under continuous review for the duration of the dispute. Local discussions are focused on operational matters for the safe delivery of services for both the fire crews and members of the public. It is understood that all emergency calls will be responded to during the dispute, though some calls may have a delayed response due to the industrial action.
All households and businesses should ensure they have working smoke alarms and should continue to use 999 or 112 calls in the case of an emergency.”
Statement on behalf of local authorities in response to retained firefighter industrial action
Local authority management are extremely concerned by SIPTU’s decision to escalate its industrial action, closing 50% of retained fire service stations on a rotational basis from 8am Friday, July 28th 2023.
This unprecedented action represents a significant increase in risk to the safety of the public and to the safety of firefighters and is totally disproportionate.
While there are acknowledged challenges in relation to retained firefighter recruitment and retention, and the sustainability of service, a clear pathway and plan have been developed to address these issues.
In addition, the recent Labour Court recommendation provides for a significant increase in earnings and improvements to conditions for retained firefighters. Further negotiation on pay is possible through the national pay talks, due to start in a matter of weeks.
Retained firefighter pay and conditions
The retained firefighter role is a part-time role. Currently, retained firefighters earn on average €25,000 per year. This ranges from €20,000 in stations with the lowest activity to in excess of €55,000 in stations of high activity. The majority of retained firefighters have other employment or alternative sources of income.
The recent Labour Court recommendation would have provided a significant increase to firefighter earnings of €5,523 – €6,941 per annum. The increase would be achieved through a significant increase in the retainer, an increase of €1,200 to premium payments and a fire-prevention programme that would see a further €1,872 increase in earnings. However, this was rejected by SIPTU members.
Management have addressed structured time off for retained firefighters by reducing the obligation for response to alerts (from 75% to 45%) with no reduction in retainer, despite the reduction in availability. This will require the recruitment of 400 more firefighters, which management have committed to.
Further negotiation on pay is possible through the national pay talks, due to start in a matter of weeks. Minister Darragh O’Brien has stated his commitment to advocating on behalf of retained firefighters during the talks.
It is simply not within the power of local authorities to provide any pay increase outside of the national pay agreement and we are calling on SIPTU to recognise this and call off unconstructive and unnecessary industrial action, which has a significant impact on public safety.
Management believe that a resolution is possible through acceptance of the current Labour Court offer and engagement with the forthcoming national pay talks.
The further escalation of industrial action is not proportionate, given its impact on public safety and given the fact that pay talks are imminent, which can be used to address firefighter concerns.
Management’s absolute priority is the safety of the public and of firefighters.
Management has engaged extensively with SIPTU at national and local level in relation to emergency cover plans during the industrial action. Based on comprehensive risk assessments completed by management, we have a high level of concern in relation to the implications of actions being taken and their impact on safety.
• The complete closure of 50% of fire stations creates unacceptable and unnecessary risks for attendance and cover at incidents throughout the country.
• In addition, SIPTU has instructed members in the other 50% of fire stations not to use the Tetra secure radio system, which is the standard system in use for emergency services. Members are instead instructed to use mobile phone communication. Management believes this constitutes a significant increase in risk, particularly in areas with substandard mobile phone coverage.
• Also, SIPTU is instructing that the minimum attendance of appliances at incidents – however minor – be increased to three appliances from three stations. This will inevitably diminish the level of cover available for other incidents with potentially serious consequences.
These are disproportionate measures and management are appealing to SIPTU to recognise the increase in risk being caused and revise the instructions in the interests of public and firefighter safety.
Retained firefighters provide a vital community service and are very committed to their valuable work and to protecting the safety of the public.
Management continues to engage at national and local level with SIPTU to ensure the risk to the public and to firefighters is minimised to the greatest extent possible. Management will continue to engage with SIPTU to ensure adherence to joint responsibilities under the Code of Practice on Dispute Procedures in relation to emergency services.
The public should continue to call 999/112 in the event of an emergency.