18/10/2002

NI firefighters balloted over strike action

UPDATE: Firefighters across the UK have voted in favour of holding strike action in the next stage of their dispute over pay.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members voted to begin their industrial action on October 29 - the first firefighter's strike in Britain for 25 years.

The strike ballot went ahead following union demands for a 40% rise in wages from the Local Government Authority (LGA) – demands which would see an ordinary fireman's annual salary soar from £21,000 to £30,000.

The government has mobilised hundreds of troops and dozens of ageing Green Goddess appliances to fill the role of fire service should strike action go ahead.

The LGA has said that the only way to achieve a pay increase for firefighters was through the independent review sanctioned by the government.

"If the Fire Brigades’ Union were to bring about the first national strike of fire fighters for over 20 years, the only other people to suffer in addition to the public will be the firefighters themselves," said an LGA spokesperson.

The LGA claim about two-thirds of the general public believe the 4% pay increase offer tabled is reasonable.

Firefighters have become impatient with the progress so far and have refused to accept the three-month independent review – saying that it is a waste of time and public money.

The LGA has warned every firefighter to question whether a strike "would deliver any more than is currently on offer to them". They also stressed that proposed changes to the fire service structure would not result in job losses.

Employers have sent a leaflet to the homes of all FBU member firefighters and control staff entitled ‘Think about your Vote’, urging them to think about the impact industrial action could have on both the service.

Ahead of the ballot a FBU spokesperson said: "This dispute is about firefighters securing take home pay of £8.50 an hour for a 42-hour week. It is about professional pay for a multi-skilled fire and rescue service that performs a key public duty every second of the year.

“The government blocked a 16% pay offer, hijacked the pay talks and then abandoned them six weeks ago. We are not entering a sham review which told us our claim was rejected before they had even met.

"All the Government has to do is start genuine pay talks, it is that simple."

The spokesperson also accused Deputy Prime Minister, and union stalwart, John Prescott of hypocrisy, as the Cabinet voted themselves a 40% rise in pay last year.

(GMcG)

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