Firefighters' union splits in row over work hours

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2012, 11:46am

A splinter group has broken away from the firemen's union to press for a proposed 51-hour week.

The group - formed by retired officer Lok Ping-yin, who still holds a post in the Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, and former vice-chairman Lo Shik-chung - said an association poll last week had "kidnapped" fire fighters' opinions.

The poll by the association, which wants a 48-hour week, showed 56 per cent of members were against cutting hours from 54 to 51 a week. A Fire Department poll found 56 per cent of 5,792 staff questioned backed the 51-hour proposal.

The association said the department's poll did not fully represent the views of frontline firefighters as it included management, trainees and non-operational staff.

Lok said some firefighters thought the union had become too radical as it was threatening strike action if its demands were not met.

"I am not leaving the union," he said. "I am not starting all over again. I just want to provide a platform so that different opinions can be expressed properly."

The concern group has gained support from the Fire Services Officers Association, which represents about 500 senior officers, and the Control Staff's Union, representing 150 staff working at communication centres.

The group said the general association manipulated its results by only questioning a representative of each squad, instead of all firefighters. The survey showed 67 squads rejected the proposal and 49 supported it, not the two-thirds majority needed. So the union then took the results of a 2010 poll that showed most members demanded a 48-hour week, and presented this as the view of the majority.

Lok said the union's survey did not fully represent firefighters' views as it should have polled everyone, not just squad representatives.

He said the union should take a more rational view and aim to attain its goal gradually.

The new proposal means the number of firefighters sent to douse minor fires would be reduced from 22 to 20. The department said it would submit the proposal to the Security Bureau for approval.

General association vice-chairman Tse Sau-lung said the union would respect the concern group's views but he questioned if the group, which has about 100 members, was representative enough.

The association, which represents 4,500 firefighters, will meet officials from the department, the Security Bureau and the Civil Service Bureau today.

"Maybe the department is nervous after learning we have a counter-proposal on working hours," Tse said. "They have been doing a lot to suppress us recently. If they hadn't, how could this concern group have been set up so quickly?"