Firefighters clashed with the leadership of the union movement yesterday over the Trades Union Congress's endorsement of a government-backed inquiry into pay and working practices in the fire service. Sir Tony Young, until recently the president of the TUC, refused to resign from the review committee in the teeth of opposition from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which is threatening national strikes.
Sir Tony, a former leader of the Communication Workers' Union, admitted he knew little about the fire service but insisted the FBU would not get what it wanted from the inquiry. He said that the committee needed union input and that he would continue to co-operate with the investigation of the service, chaired by Sir George Bain.
Andy Gilchrist, the general secretary of the FBU, derided Sir Tony's self-confessed ignorance of the service and his apparent conclusion that the union's case would not be vindicated before any evidence had been taken.
"Tony Young confirmed what we have been saying all along, that this review is not independent," he said. "It is a complete farce. How can we be expected to enter into a review when clearly, the review team has already decided the outcome. The review is to be completed in two and a half months and is a complete sham. The review hasn't heard any evidence and Sir Tony's already saying, 'Yes, Prime Minister.'"
The FBU leader urged employers to resume talksover the union's demand for a 40 per cent pay increase, which would put firefighters on £30,000 a year. His members are expected to vote for stoppages of up to eight days, starting this by the end month.
Sir Tony claimed that he was on the committee in a "personal capacity'', but TUC officials confirmed that they had put his name forward.
The former TUC president said his admission of ignorance and his comments about the union's case were part of a private conversation. "If Andy wishes to have another word with me, I would not rule it out. I hope I won't have his press officer there to slightly distort my statements,'' Sir Tony said.
He said he had no intention of resigning: "It's true I'm not an expert in the fire service but I would like to think that after a few years in the trade union movement, I know about industrial relations.''
Referring to the 40 per cent pay claim, he said: "I don't believe anybody imagines that will be accepted.''
Signs of dissension are showing among employers. Kent's fire authority effectively argued for an increase in the 4 per cent pay offer and Scottish councils registered their anger over their lack of input into management strategy.
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