10/09/2002

MLA's call for new firefighters pay scheme

Two UUP MLA's have called on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement a new pay scheme for Ulster's firefighters.

North Antrim UUP MLA the Rev Robert Coulter called for the introduction of a new pay formula in a motion to the Assembly on Monday.

Mr Coulter said he hoped it would help achieve a real remedy to the question of firefighter’s pay. He added: “It is within the present pay formula for firefighters that the heart of this problem lies. The pay scales provide no real possibility of promotion unless it is for the few firefighters who are promoted to management grades.

“I have only seen such rigid pay scales in one other sector – the further education sector - where the scale of main grade lecturer again allows no promotional possibilities within the classroom, so that promotion can only be gained by joining management. This situation used to exist in teaching but there it has been addressed with real rewards now being available for classroom teachers, actual practitioners as opposed to management. It should be the same with the fire service."

Lagan Valley member Ivan Davis backed his colleague's call and said that a differential in pay depending on the number of years served and the skills of the individual would be an effective solution to the present dispute.

He added: “I don’t believe it’s simply a matter of awarding a universal pay increase but instead a pay structure, which is focussed around career steps.

“There is no doubt that the present pay formula is out of date because after all it was established at the end of the nine-week strike in 1977. The formula, up until the last number of years, has served the Fire Service well because real wages for fire fighters and fire control operators have improved in line with those of skilled manual workers in the private sector.

“However, due to the acceleration of the labour markets and occupational change in the workplace in recent years the present pay formula is not effective in providing fire fighters with a deserving salary.

“It is important that any agreement must be implemented quickly because this issue has been in the public domain now for some time. Therefore it is not in the interests of firefighters’ morale to keep this issue rumbling on.”

Mr Davis said that due to the troubles in Northern Ireland firefighters have had to operate in more dangerous circumstances and criticised those who have carried out attacks on emergency services, including both the ambulance service and the Fire Brigade.

He revealed that well over 800 firefighters have been injured in the last five years with nine of their colleagues losing lives during the troubles.

(MB)

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