Firefighters threaten fresh strike action over pay deal delay

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The Independent Online

Firefighters' leaders set a collision course with the Government yesterday as they threatened fresh national strikes this summer and prepared to sever their union's historic link with Labour.

Firefighters' leaders set a collision course with the Government yesterday as they threatened fresh national strikes this summer and prepared to sever their union's historic link with Labour.

The Fire Brigades Union warned employers that unless an agreement on pay which ended last year's dispute was implemented in full, a ballot on industrial action would begin on 30 July. A strike could start three weeks later.

Today the FBU is expected to demonstrate its deep anger with the Government's role in the nine-month conflict last year by scrapping its affiliation to the Labour Party - the first trade union to do so.

The firefighters' organisation has been part of Labour for 85 years and its decision is a symptom of widespread disenchantment among trade unionists with New Labour's policies.

The FBU yesterday demanded the immediate payment of a 3.5 per cent pay increase - which was originally due last November - and a further 4.2 per cent from 1 July, also part of last year's deal.

The firefighters' conference went ahead without Andy Gilchrist, the union's general secretary, who has been taken ill. Speaking in his place, the assistant general secretary, Mike Fordham, said delegates had expressed anger over management's "refusal to honour" last year's deal.

He said that local authorities were withholding the 3.5 per cent and had given no commitment to paying the 4.2 per cent from July. Agreement on the first payment has been held up over firefighters' attempts to protect their right to sleep on night duty when there are no emergencies. Management has also attempted to enforce a "normal working" regime on bank holidays.

Mr Fordham accused employers of "theft" and claimed that the Government was pulling strings in the background. Some elements in the Blair administration wanted to "smash the union", he said.

He believed the public would understand the firefighters' decision. "The employers have been dishonourable and totally distrustful. Their attitude is an absolute disgrace." The union had met its side of the deal but employers had made new demands, he said.

Local authorities condemned the threatened strikes, arguing that a week ago the sides were on the verge of agreement.

Christina Jebb, who chairs the employers' side of the negotiating group, said: "It remains unclear exactly what the stumbling block is." She said employers were ready to release the outstanding 3.5 per cent through negotiation. "We urge firefighters to show their disapproval of this ill-considered decision and vote against industrial action."

She said that the ballot was "not a wise or mature course for the union to follow".

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