Fire services face up to costs of Working Time

11 May 00
Rural fire services face a £10m bill this year to cover new holiday pay entitlement for part-time firefighters.

12 May 2000

Under the terms of the 1998 Working Time Regulations, which implement the European Union's Working Time Directive in the UK, part-time workers are now entitled to a minimum of four weeks paid holiday. For rural fire services, heavily dependent on retained or part-time staff, the cost implications are significant.

Fire service employers spent time last year ensuring the terms and conditions of full-time firefighters were compatible with the Working Time Regulations. But they realised only very late on that the regulations would affect the costs of the retained service.

The UK's 18,000 retained firefighters are typically paid a retainer of some £2,000 a year, which is supplemented by fees for attending incidents and training sessions. Until now, retained staff have not received payments for call-outs while they are on holiday.

Although the final costs are still being calculated, the provision of holiday pay, based on average call-outs over the previous three months, plus the necessary administration, could cost between £3m and £4m a year across England and Wales.

But because the entitlement would be effective from 1996, when the Working Time Directive came into force, brigades also face an estimated backdated pay bill of £7m–£9m. By convention, directives are applied immediately to the public sector across the European union. Although some services made an interim payment at the end of the past financial year, most will have to cover the back pay out of this year's budget.

Rural services face the brunt of the costs. In Cumbria, where retained firefighters outnumber their full-time colleagues by almost two to one, the new arrangements are expected to cost £50,000 a year, and some £150,000 will be needed to cover back pay.

The Highland and Islands fire service in Scotland estimates similar costs. Devon's fire service, which has more than 700 retained firefighters, believes some £460,000 will be needed to cover back pay, while the on-going costs will reach £150,000 a year.

Further regulations on part-time workers, which come into force in July, will also make retained staff eligible for the existing fire service pension scheme, increase brigades' training costs and bump some retained firefighters' holiday entitlement up to five weeks.

'We've only quantified the impact of the entitlement to annual leave,' said Sue Smith, Devon's assistant chief officer (corporate services). 'But the budgetary implications [of all the regulatory changes] are substantial.'


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