Many Christchurch firefighters who risked their lives to rescue people in the February earthquake are set to boycott the one-year commemorations of the tragedy amid a bitter industrial dispute.

The Herald has learned the Professional Firefighters Union has discussed, and decided against, any official directive to its members on the official commemorative service next Wednesday so as not to cause any offence.

However, a union official says he expects many paid firefighters will make their own decisions not to stand alongside Fire Service hierarchy that they felt undervalued them.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the bulk of firefighters didn't go," said union southern branch president Denis Fitzmaurice.


The Fire Service and union are in a deadlock over pay and overtime conditions after several failed mediations. The union says it is waiting to hear back from the Fire Service on the next step in negotiations.

Mr Fitzmaurice said there was discussion about some form of protest on Wednesday, but the union had decided it was too important a day for firefighters and no one wanted to disrespect the memory of those who died.

"We definitely don't want to use that day- although it's very tempting - as some way to further our claim, out of respect to everybody," he said. "I'm quite sure some will choose to go and some will choose not to go, but that's a personal choice."

A repercussion of industrial action being taken was that firefighters were not allowed to take their fire appliances from fire stations for anything other than emergencies, Mr Fitzmaurice said.

"And it's our understanding that that prevents us, especially those on-duty staff, going [to the commemorative service]."

However the Fire Service this morning said that was not correct.

A spokeswoman said on-duty staff had been told they could take their fire appliances to the event.

New Zealand Fire Service chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter said there would be an official representation by the Fire Service and that they were "facilitating the attendance" of as many on-duty Christchurch staff as possible who wanted to take part.