FBU leaders warn of more strikes unless a long-term pay formula is offered

Barrie Clement,Labour Editor
Wednesday 05 March 2003 01:00

Leaders of the firefighters threatened a fresh round of industrial action yesterday if the Government failed to table a long-term pay formula in a wage offer to be revealed tomorrow. A senior Fire Brigades Union official predicted strikes unless a mechanism for setting firefighters' earnings was part of what is expected to be a three-year offer on wages. Union negotiators have detected a marked reluctance by management to adopt a fixed system for determining wages.

The official said: "There will be no settlement without a formula. Any proposals to end the dispute would be dead in the water." Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the union, is understood to be prepared to sign key proposals put forward by Sir George Bain in his controversial report on the fire service last year.

But while Sir George did not rule out a pay formula, he said such an arrangement should only "inform'' negotiations rather than set wage levels. A previous system, abandoned last year at the behest of the union, pegged firefighters' pay to the top quartile of male manual earnings.

In a submission to management the union has clearly signalled acceptance of some of the key reforms suggested by Sir George and endorsed by the Government.

The FBU has said it is prepared to accept the "strategic heart" of the Bain report, placing the emphasis on fire prevention as well as "intervention''. Such a system would involve a radical transformation of the service and employees' working practices.

The union may also agree to drop a long-standing ban on non-essential overtime in return for an acceptable wage increase. But the union will not agree to job losses in frontline' fire fighting until the benefits of new preventive measures have been felt. The source said the FBU would not agree to cuts in the number of firefighters to fund a pay rise, a key demand of the Government. It is thought the union might be offered 16 per cent over three years, compared with a 16 per cent increase over two years offered to the union by the fire authorities last year, but vetoed by the Government.

The Bain report, originally rejected by the FBU, suggested an 11 per cent rise over two years in return for the acceptance of radical changes.

The union, which has staged 15 days of industrial action since the dispute started, originally demanded a 40 per cent rise, to put qualified firefighters on £30,000 a year.

Any new strikes – the union had drawn up contingency plans for stoppages lasting from two hours to four days – could impair the armed forces ability to wage war in Iraq. Senior military officers say personnel crewing Green Goddess fire engines will be needed in the Middle East.

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