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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 2 July, 2020
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Dublin Fire Brigade is operating at reduced capacity due to unofficial overtime strikes over pay

Firefighters and paramedics in Dublin want their overtime rate raised to 1.5 times regular pay, in line with the rest of the country and the Dublin City Council standard.

BLANCH FIRE 758A9915_90511221 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

DUBLIN FIRE BRIGADE (DFB) is operating at reduced capacity this week due to a dispute over overtime remuneration.

Firefighters and paramedics across the service have made themselves unavailable for overtime duty on four days this week in protest at their overtime rate of pay.

At present, DFB pays its employees 1.25 times the normal hourly rate for overtime worked. This compares with the time-and-a-half earned by firefighters in all other Irish full-time jurisdictions (with the exception of Louth, which has its own contracts and scale), and also with the 1.5 times hourly rate available to other Dublin City Council (DCC) workers.

The news comes amid reports that a number of DFB fire engines were ruled as being out of service on two separate occasions last week due to the unavailability of the overtime labour needed to staff them.

The unofficial stoppages this week happened on Monday and Tuesday, are set to continue today, and will conclude on Friday (Thursday is being exempted so as to prevent a situation where one watch is penalised twice for missing two days’ worth of overtime).

However, the stoppages are only occurring during day-shifts, as opposed to non-regular hours where overtime becomes of even more importance.

Yesterday, 30 operational positions on DFB fire engines were not filled – six officers and 24 firefighters – which saw the service run about 20% below minimum safety numbers. Meanwhile, an engine at Donnybrook Fire Station was taken out of service and its crew sent to other stations to shore up numbers.

“It’s happening across the board and seems to be well-supported,” a source told TheJournal.ie. “There is wariness as it’s not an official action, but yesterday and today the support has been 100%.”

“Under the current regime Dublin Fire Brigade personnel are not disadvantaged in any way in the calculation and payment of overtime,” a DFB spokesperson told TheJournal.ie when asked for comment on the matter.

The issue of payment of overtime at time-and-a-half to Dublin Fire Brigade personnel has been raised by the trade unions with management in Dublin City Council and this will be dealt with under normal industrial relations talks in due course.
Dublin Fire Brigade in common with all other public services operates within allocated budgets. The service maximises and efficiently utilises resources to ensure the continuous provision of fire, emergency ambulance and rescue services. At all times the safety of both staff and the community is paramount

Overtime is voluntary within Dublin Fire Brigade, but it appears that it has become something of a necessity in recent years in order to meet standards of service.

At present DFB employs roughly 900 people across six Districts, with 12 full-time stations and two part-time stations.

“I do overtime because I have to make ends meet,” one worker who’s participating in the action told us. “We’re being paid less than less well-trained workers in other places.

It is voluntary, but the fact of the matter is DFB needs us to do it to cover the service, and it’s also the case that we need to do it. But then you have to make it worth people’s while. 24 hours extra a week will cause people to burn out. They should be paid properly.
We feel really isolated at present. We’re the benchmark for pay for the rest of the country, yet they’re getting paid more than we are. It’s not right.

A number of sources within DFB itself have described the service as being the “best-trained” such division in Ireland, yet firefighters and paramedics working there earn less overtime than those employed elsewhere.

“We have paramedics and advanced medical staff, no other fire service in Ireland has that, and many in the UK and Europe don’t either,” one source said.

Escalation of the action is expected to be announced on Friday evening, with overtime strikes planned for an additional four weeks.

Exempt

“Yesterday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said ‘there should be equal pay for equal work and equal experience’ – over the RTÉ pay row,” said Ros MacCobb, spokesperson for the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA) today.

But here in Dublin City Council you have one group of workers getting paid less than others in the Council when they work overtime. In Dublin Fire Brigade you have workers on overtime doing more work than other full-time firefighters around the country and getting paid less. That’s grossly unfair.

“This isn’t union-driven, it’s the firefighters on the ground who are looking for this,” MacCobb told TheJournal.ie.

It seems to be a human resources policy within Dublin City Council – a circular on the subject of overtime last year said that firefighters are exempt from a return to pre-austerity levels of time-and-a-half overtime.
But all other fighters in other areas are back to their previous rates because their local authorities have made the decision to ease the pain, as it were.

The unofficial nature of the stoppage is borne out by a Siptu spokesperson, who said they were “unaware” of the action.

MacCobb believes the denial of time-and-a-half to firefighters on DFB is “to save money”. “When there was an embargo on hiring staff during the austerity years DFB was exempt because staff levels had to be kept above a minimum level,” he says.

But there are two issues – the fact overtime payments for Dublin firefighters are less, and the point that these guys are doing too much overtime – normal services are now reliant on guys working overtime – and that’s not sustainable.

“A service shouldn’t be reliant on overtime for basic numbers. Between that and the overtime – they’re false economies. We’re told it’s in line with DFB policy, but we’ve looked for that policy under freedom of information and been told there isn’t one.”

File Photo TRADE UNION SIPTU is planning to ballot members of Dublin Fire Brigade on industrial and strike action. The decision was made at a meeting yesterday and is in relation to a lack of ambulance resources. Siptu represents about 800 members of DFB Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

MacCobb likewise says coupled with the “discontent” with the lower rate of overtime is a general unhappiness in the fire service with the funding of equipment.

DFB recently bought four second-hand turntable ladder engines retired from service in the UK with “crew cabs that only fit two members, when the service here operates with crews of three”, according to MacCobb.

“They’re over 15 years old already and were deemed not fit for purpose in another country. The age of the fleet is an issue – some of the machines are getting on to 20 years old,” he says (pictures of the various appliances in use by DFB can be seen here).

The service is driving around in some trucks that date from 1997 – and they’re well-worn – there’s less wear and tear down the country maybe, but in Dublin some of them are on their last legs.
You’ll see ambulances with 500km on the clock that are still operational, and the truth is they shouldn’t be.

Read: A new survey commissioned by An Garda Síochána says 92% of people trust the force

Read: Michael O’Leary’s pay package climbed even higher last year

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