Devon and Somerset firefighters threaten legal action

Image caption,
The fire authority has to shave millions of pounds from its budget after government cuts

Firefighters in Devon and Somerset say they are ready to take legal action over plans to change their working hours.

Under cost-cutting proposals, firefighters could be at their station for four days on the run.

The fire authority said it would be voluntary and firefighters would be offered a 20% salary rise.

But the Fire Brigades Union said it was against employment law and would put public safety at risk.

The 96-hour shifts are among proposals being considered by the fire authority, including cutting back on community fire prevention visits and reducing crew numbers at Somerset stations to match how Devon operates.

Tam Macfarlane, who represents the union in Somerset, said the plans would see 16 operational firefighters made redundant at front-line fire stations.

"We will not stand by and watch our fire service cut back to a Victorian age," he said.

"Legislation protects workers such as doctors and lorry drivers from working too long and by doing so putting the public at risk. We will use that legislation to protect our firefighters and the public.

"My message to the politicians is this: if you force through dangerous cuts in front-line services, we'll see you in court."

'A voluntary thing'

The fire service, which is facing a 25% budget cut, said the changes would mean no redundancies.

The cuts are being considered as a result of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review which fixed spending budgets for each government department up to 2014-15.

The fire authority estimates that it will have to save £3.5m in 2013 and a further £3.5m in 2014.

Employment law states workers can work more than 48 hours in one week, as long as the average over 17 weeks is less than 48 hours per week.

Mark Healey, the fire authority chairman, said: "Nobody is going to ask any firefighter to do something they don't wish to do.

"It's voluntary, we've said to firefighters if you change your shift patterns there's extra money but it's totally a voluntary thing."

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