The threat of further strikes by Britain's firefighters will increase today with the publication of the Bain report, according to senior management sources.
They believe the document on pay and modernisation in the fire service drawn up by Sir George Bain will place local authority negotiators in a "straitjacket". A senior figure on the employers' negotiating team predicts that the full report will "close off some areas of negotiation".
Despite speculation that the Fire Brigades Union is unlikely to resurrect its campaign of industrial action, the present industrial peace was nothing more than a "Christmas truce", the source believed. The 48-hour stoppages, planned to begin at 9am on 28 January and 9am on 1 February, were still a serious option for the union, he argued.
The Bain report will propose an 11 per cent increase over two years in return for improvements to productivity. It is expected to stick with the offer of 4 per cent from November this year and propose another 7 per cent from next November provided the union accepts change to working practices.
However, it will suggest that the introduction of a pay formula to "inform" firefighters' wages should not be introduced until November 2004. The next face-to-face talks to discuss the union's call for a 40 per cent pay increase, putting firefighters on £30,0000 a year, are expected in the second week of January.
Apart from the apparent lateness of its introduction of the pay formula, the union is keen to reintroduce a more formal wage mechanism which dictates rather than informs the level of pay. As part of the settlement of the first national firefighters' strike in 1978 a formula was established which determined pay and obviated the need for annual negotiations.
Among his recommendations, Sir George is expected to call for the merger of some fire brigades, new shift patterns and more working flexibility.
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