Firefighters threaten to strike over pay

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The Independent Online

Firefighters' leaders threatened nationwide strikes yesterday as part of a campaign to abolish a pay formula that has helped to keep industrial peace for 25 years.

The Fire Brigades Union wantsincreases of more than 10 per cent for newly qualified staff, who are paid £21,500 a year. Nine years ago, the 50,000-strong union threatened stoppages in defence of the present automatic wage system. It even accepted the 1.4 per cent rise dictated by the mechanism rather than the 1.5 per cent the Conservative government was offering.

However, the formula, which partly ties firefighters' wages to the upper quartile of manual earnings, has been yielding what the union believes are unacceptably low increases in recent years. The formula gave firefighters 3.9 per cent last year, 3 per cent in 2000 and 2 per cent in 1999.

Andy Gilchrist, the union's general secretary, said he intended to take a "very tough" line. If there was no satisfactory response from the Government, he would call for industrial action.

He said: "Firefighters' wages have been largely dictated by the movements in pay of manufacturing workers who have been going through a tough time recently. Some of our members are being paid working family tax credits and that is not acceptable."

Mr Gilchrist said fire service pay should be linked to that of workers with higher skills. "We are fed up with being patted on the back and being told what heroes we are." The pay formula needed to reflect the modern fire service, he said.