Three firefighters being trained by an instructor in nozzle technique.
11 Apr 2023

Firefighters warn of mass resignations with new WTD rules: "Disastrous work hours"


Over Swedish 2,700 firefighters have signed a protest list against new WTD work hour regulations that will come into effect this fall. The EU decision means an end to the firefighters' 24-hour shifts.


The European Working Time Directive (WTD): 

In Sweden, many career firefighters work 24 hour shifts, meaning that they sleep will overnight on the fire station. It could uninterrupted sleep if the workload and number of calls allow for it, however often they will not have a lot of sleep during those shifts. In return for this, they get time longer periods of time off: based on overtime work regulations, the "sleep" hours will count fully as paid work hours, with all hours passed 8 or 9 hours counting as over time.

This system works well for many firefighters, who can combine their work with other jobs, their own businesses or personal engagements, such as caring for their families. Many firefighters commute long ways to their fire stations and has based their routine on only commuting som many days per week or month.

"For us, these are disastrous work hours," says firefighter Patrick Falck in an article on SVT.se.

Starting on October 1st, Sweden's municipalities and regions will change their rules for daily rest, according to the European Working Time Directive. The EU Commission has questioned whether the collective agreement is compatible with certain parts of the EU's Working Time Directive.

The directive stipulates that employees must have 11 hours of rest during a 24-hour period. This may mean changes to schedules for firefighters and that they are forbidden from working 24-hour shifts. Instead, they will work more shifts per month.

Patrick Falck is a firefighter at the Ekerö fire station and is one of those who have signed the petition. According to him, the new work hours make it more difficult to combine the profession with parenthood. He has a long commute to work and has his children every other week.

According to one of the proposals that has been put forward, Falck explains, firefighters will work 12 hour graveyard shifts between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, from 7 PM to 7 AM.

"Doing that for three days in a row is complete madness. I have never heard anything worse," he says.

A group of independent firefighters has now started a petition aimed at the country's 5,000 full-time firefighters. So far, almost 3,000 have signed the petition calling for an exemption for emergency services. They believe the new rules will lead to deteriorating working conditions and risk mass layoffs.

Even Patrick Falck will consider changing careers.

"I am completely sure that many of my colleagues will go the same way," he says.


Employer organisation says exceptions from WTD are impossible

According to Magnus Krantz, ombudsman for the Firefighters' National Union, the parties must try to negotiate an exemption.

"We see that an exception needs to be introduced for maintaining essential services, including emergency services," he tells Swedish TV4.

The organisation SKR, which represents employers, stressed that an exemption is not possible.

"It is not a free choice to follow the (European Working Time) directive," says Jeanette Hedberg, chief negotiator at SKR, to to Swedish evening newspaper Aftonbladet.


Photo: Firefighters being trained by an instructor in nozzle technique at Sandö colleague in Sweden. Photo by Björn Ulfsson

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