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Firefighters in Dublin Fire Brigade have embarked on unofficial industrial action which has during some shifts reduced the number of available staff below minimum safety levels, it has been claimed.
Some firefighters have refused to work overtime this week in protest at a disparity in their overtime pay rate compared to the rates paid to staff at Dublin City Council, which funds the service.
One firefighter said the issue had affected firefighters and paramedics in Dublin Fire Brigade for a number of years.
They were effectively being paid less than their full-time counterparts in the other full-time urban and regional fire services in cities such as Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Dundalk and Drogheda.
The Dublin firefighters are paid overtime at a rate of 1.25 times their normal salary but all other fire services had had their rate reinstated to 1.5 times in the past few years, the firefighter claimed.
None of the other services offered a paramedic/advanced paramedic service such as the one operated by Dublin Fire Brigade, the person added.
“We are more highly skilled but less well paid,” they said.
There was also “significant undermanning” of the service in Dublin because of a lack of recruitment over a number of years.
While overtime was not compulsory, many staff were forced to work it due to the austerity measures that had been imposed on public sector workers post 2008.
“As a result of this the firefighters and paramedics have decided to withdraw overtime for a number of days this week.
“This is unofficial action because our unions have flatly refused to fight this issue for us,” the firefighter said.
They said that by refusing to give the Dublin crews parity with the other full-time fire services the council was “putting the lives of citizens at risk”.
Ros MacCobb of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association said about 30 firefighters had declined to work overtime on shifts on Monday. He said overtime was ‘voluntary’ with some people working it on their days off, but they had in some cases this week declined to come in.
This meant the numbers available had fallen below minimum safety levels on those shifts.
Mr MacCobb, a serving firefighter, said council staff had had their overtime pay restored to 1.5 times normal rates in the past year, while the rate for firefighters remained at 1.25 times. There had also been historic underinvestment in the service and in equipment, meaning that in some cases firefighters were expected to work on turntables 15 years old.
“The issues have failed to be addressed by Dublin City Council and the unions and the firefighters have decided enough is enough,” he said.
Mr MacCobb noted there had been some recruitment to the service but that it was “too little, too late” to address the shortage of firefighters. He said there had never been an embargo on recruitment to the service even during the recession.
A spokeswoman for Dublin Fire Brigade said the issue of overtime had been raised as a pay issue and that Dublin City Council would be meeting trade unions to discuss that.
She said the service had not been notified by unions of any industrial action and that Dublin Fire Brigade was continuing to operate the fire service with the resources available.
A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said: “The issue of payment of overtime at time and 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.”