Firefighters head for pay strike vote

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THE FIRE Brigades Union's annual conference in Bridlington this week is expected to endorse a strike ballot overwhelmingly, and the impact of strikes by firefighters could be increased by tacit backing from police officers, writes Barrie Clement.

Some police representatives report that officers sympathise with fire brigade employees. Both services face the withdrawal of agreements linking their pay to other workers.

Industrial action by the police would be illegal and is highly unlikely, although a senior activist in the Scottish Police Federation believes that strikes should be considered.

Delegates to a recent conference of constables in Scotland argued that there was a growing mood in favour of the right to take action.

During the first national firefighters' strike, in 1977, police directed troops to fires and advised on the fastest routes.

But now, many officers may not be prepared to provide cover for striking public sector workers.

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the 48,500-strong Fire Brigades Union (FBU), expects police officers to be 'unenthusiastic' about performing firefighters' duties when their own morale is low.

Under proposals to be put to the FBU conference, firefighters will be asked to take action to defend the system which links the pay of a qualified firefighter - at present an average pounds 306.80 per week - with the upper quartile of male manual earnings.

This year fire service employees have been told they will be subjected to a 1.5 per cent pay limit, like all other public service employees.

Members will also be asked to strike if any are made redundant.

The settlement date for firefighters' pay is not until 7 November, but the FBU has received legal advice that it can call lawful strikes before then because both the Home Secretary and employers' leaders have already refused to guarantee the pay formula.