Firefighter left waiting as local authority fails to attend WRC hearing

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A Firefighter, who shall remain nameless, was left waiting after his local authority failed to be represented at a recent hearing in the WRC, Dublin. A case was taken against the local authority/ fire service following the recent European ruling over standby time for firefighters being classed as working time.

Standby time is now classed as working time for firefighters as ruled by the European Court of Justice on the 21st February 2018. This is being represented by Retained Firefighters having to respond within 10 minutes (varies in other towns, countries etc) or within a certain distance from the station. In turn it puts a burdon on Retained Firefighters, depriving them of social and domestic time with their families and friends. The argument still remains following the ECJ ruling in the fact they still get paid a retainer for carrying a beeper on them at all times on call. Let’s do a quick breakdown on what this exactly means for a newly recruited Firefighter:

The retainer amount for new recruits across Ireland is €7,740pa. This along with their hourly drill rate of €20.42 is the only guaranteed wage they will get for being a member of the Retained Fire service in Ireland. Drills occur weekly for 2 hours which will give them a total amount of €40.84 per week. We then breakdown the retainer into their contracted 48-week year, 24/7 contract which breaks down to a weekly wage of €161.25. Add this retainer and drill rate together for the week, basically, the Retained Firefighter receives €202.09 per week. Match this to the contract terms, you are on a wage of €1.20 per hour.

To highlight this on its own paragraph to make sure you see it, €1.20 per hour.

€1.20 per hour to risk their lives, run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. €1.20 per hour to get up in the middle of the night to come to the aid of someone in distress from an RTC. €1.20 per hour to be always restricted to 2km from their stations, day and night. €1.20 per hour to have to miss out on bringing their children to school, creche, social outings or seeing them in the star role of their school play. €1.20 per hour to miss their childhood best friend’s wedding or funeral, have we gotten the point across yet? Something needed to be done, and the case of the Belgian Firefighter just resolved this in the European Court of Justice.

Retained Firefighters are now in serious breach of European law with regards to the Working time act 1997 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. The Rudy Matzak case outlined that no more than 48 hours could be worked in any 1 week. Prior to this, the Irish Emergency Services were exempt from these regulations due to their standby time not being considered working time. Now, we the Retained Firefighters of Ireland, are also in breach of Health and Safety as it is classed as unsafe for members to work more than the 48 hours per week. At present, there is nothing stopping us completing an 8, 10 or 12-hour call (varies from county to county), coming back to the station and then receiving another 8-hour call, which could potentially see us working a 16-hour day, through heat, humidity and danger. Is this right? What is the answer?

There are currently 7 counties with full-time stations within Ireland; Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Dundalk and Drogheda. This excludes the few internal stations some companies and organisations have. Numerous retained stations find themselves busier (more calls) than some of the full-time stations alone, however they are contracted 168 hours per week compared to the full-time working conditions. This is not a battle between full-time and retained, this is a battle for the retained fire servants of the country to be fairly, and equally recognised across the board, whilst at the same time, ensuring and promoting the safer welfares of our communities.

It is not acceptable for a firefighter to have to bring a case to Irish courts in order to be able to win what is rightfully due to him/her, and that of over 2000 firefighters across the country. We talk about recruitment and retention of firefighters in the country, how can we resolve these major issues within our frontline emergency services? When will the official clerks of the fire service stand up, speak up, and allow the Firefighters, and public know how this will be resolved? A no show from a local authority to a WRC hearing is unacceptable in the eyes of the Firefighters and community alike. It lacks manners, welfare and trust within the Irish Fire Service. The community needs answers about the forward planning of the Fire service in Ireland, and what it will do to recognise EU law, and to inform the community of how it is going to retain its members of a much needed, possibly underutilised, community service.

Court judgement can be found here.

For the Retained Firefighters of Ireland, if you are reading this, please visit www.NRFA.ie and register to have your voice heard. Have your say so that we can help you earn what you deserve. Our matters cannot be dragged out any longer.

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