A union has put Gloucestershire’s fire service “on notice” to tackle racism, saying “words are not enough”, writes Leigh Boobyer.
The Fire Brigades Union said Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) must deliver “systemic change” to crack down on “unacceptable discriminatory behaviours” faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic staff.
The union says it hs previously raised concerns about “poor career progression” for black personnel, and about “excessive informal disciplinary action” faced by black firefighters in Gloucestershire.
It comes as black ex-firefighters in the service told BBC Radio Gloucestershire last week they were made to feel “worthless”, claimed they witnessed racial abuse and attacks, and believed they were passed over for promotion due to the colour of their skin.
They also called for a Government inquiry into ‘institutional racism’ within GFRS.
The service’s chief fire officer Wayne Bowcock said racism was suffered “at the hands of the ignorant few”, adding that GFRS has “moved beyond words and is taking action to root out and tackle racism”.
The union said it welcomes GFRS’s pledge to support staff who raise concerns about racism with a “simple method for reporting racism at work”.
According to the union, which represents more than 30,000 firefighters and control staff, it has agreed a zero-tolerance statement with the fire service.
Wayne Bowcock, Chief Fire Officer at Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We have already moved beyond words and are taking action to root out and tackle racism and the impact it has on those who suffer at the hands of the ignorant few.
“This has been a great piece of work between all of the unions and GFRS and I welcome their public declaration of support as we continue to make GFRS a high performing, highly respected and highly respectful service.
“It is disappointing though that the FBU has decided to leak this before it has been shared with those who are most important in all of this – our staff. This is not the way they should have heard about this work.”
Trevor French, FBU executive council member, said: “Senior management have historically failed to tackle racism within Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, but it appears this unacceptable culture has finally been recognised.
“We welcome this statement as a commitment by management to make positive change and eradicate racism in the service.
“For too long, our black members have suffered racism and discrimination in their working lives. The FBU has raised these issues for years but management buried their heads in the sand for too long.
“We need to see immediate, effective and fundamental change in Gloucestershire and we will hold this new management team to account to achieve it.”
Joseph Mendy, FBU Black and Ethnic Minority Members section Secretary, said: “The evidence from black firefighters in Gloucestershire clearly shows that racist behaviour has been prevalent in this service for years.
“Despite serious concerns being raised and evidence produced, the previous management teams did nothing to protect black firefighters at work.
“We welcome this statement and the commitments within it, but we are putting Gloucestershire on notice – words are not enough and there must be systemic change that goes with it.”
The full statement agreed by Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue, Gloucestershire County Council, and the FBU reads: “Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) has a zero-tolerance approach to racism, and condemns all racist and other discriminatory behaviour. We are committed to challenging and dismantling, any structural racism within our service, and are currently reviewing our practices, policies and procedure’s. All areas within the equality framework will also be subject to review.
Regrettably, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members have historically experienced unacceptable discriminatory behaviours, attitudes and practices which do not uphold or demonstrate the values of GFRS.
We recognise racism at work clearly can have a huge impact on BAME members’ health and wellbeing, and can cause serious ill health. For many, it is reported that experiences have had a negative impact on their work, as well as their personal lives.
Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) will ensure there is a comprehensive equality, diversity and dignity policy, which explicitly includes zero tolerance for racism and other forms of unfair discrimination.
GFRS will make it clear that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism, and act to protect staff who are subject to racial abuse.
GFRS will ensure that there is a simple method for BAME members to report racism at work, and make sure that BAME members feel confident that complaints about racism will be taken seriously, acted on and dealt with satisfactorily.
GFRS will ensure that all staff know that workers who raise concerns about racism will not be victimised for doing so.
GCC and GFRS are committed to creating a work environment which supports positive health and wellbeing. Upholding clear values and behaviours to protect staff from racism and unfair discrimination is a cornerstone of this commitment. In order for GCC and GFRS to become ‘employers of choice’ our staff must feel safe and valued. This in turn will ensure that we are reflective of the communities we serve and can engage with them to deliver services more effectively.”