A frontline fire-fighter and former union representative has won her case for unfair dismissal against Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service (CFRS).
Kerry Baigent, a former Cambridgeshire rep for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the former national secretary of the union’s National Womens’ Committee, will also be awarded almost £10,000 in compensation.
A judge found she had been unfairly constructively dismissed due to an “irrational and perverse exercise” at a hearing on August 5.
The tribunal, which lasted for three days, heard that the decision to alter Ms Baigent’s working arrangements had been taken “behind closed doors based on incorrect information and in circumstances that entirely lacked transparency”.
The FBU’s solicitors Thompsons describe the victory as a “comprehensive win” for Ms Baigent and for the FBU.
The tribunal found that CFRS had made a decision to impose an untenable working pattern on Ms Baigent, who had been a frontline fire-fighter for 21 years. Ms Baigent had previously been successfully managing her full-time work as a fire-fighter around her family life by working her 48-hours of day and night shifts in Cambridge allowing her three rota days in which to travel back to her home and family in Somerset before her next shift started again in Cambridge.
But her employers compulsorily transferred Ms Baigent on July 1, 2014 to one of only two fire stations in Cambridgeshire that work five consecutive day shifts each week. This despite evidence that Ms Baigent’s fire-fighting skill-set and circumstances meant she should not have been selected. She appealed and fought hard to get the decision reversed and requested transfers to other stations but CFRS refused and Ms Baigent was forced to resign in August 2014.
Ms Baigent said: “Firefighting was a career I loved and I was desperate not to give it up. I was forced out of my job by the actions of a senior management team who made a clear decision to make my working life untenable.
“I am pleased the judge found in my favour and that the disgraceful conduct and culture of CFRS senior management has been exposed to the public. However, I loved being a fire-fighter and serving my community and I will never forgive those that took that from me. I hope my legal victory inspires fire-fighters in similar positions to fight back.
Keith Handscomb, FBU executive member added: “This landmark case has left the collective integrity of Cambridgeshire’s senior management team in tatters. A lack of trust and confidence now hangs over every fire-fighter in Cambridgeshire and every decision their senior management team makes.
Their actions are also a slur on the reputation of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.
“Kerry was a well-regarded fire-fighter who served the people of Cambridgeshire professionally and courageously. She represented her work mates diligently as their union rep and led campaigns against cuts to the service. Her treatment at the hands of faceless managers was disgraceful, and no amount of down playing or spin can detract from the fact that a respected fire-fighter has been disgracefully and unfairly dismissed.”
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “We accept the decision of the judge and already recognised that we need to make improvements to our processes relating to movement of staff. Some changes have already been made and further work is underway with the Fire Brigades Union.
“We took the decision to defend the case because there was an allegation from the claimant that she was being victimised due to her union involvement, something we disputed and felt could not be left uncontested. The judge found no evidence to substantiate this aspect of the claim.”