Firefighters in the FBU union have rejected a pay, amid anger at being asked to perform extra duties for little extra money.
And in another sign of the growing mood over pay, health unions are demanding a 3.9 percent rise for 1 million NHS staff across Britain plus an extra £800 to make up for money lost during the last seven years of freezes and pay caps.
The firefighters defied the recommendations of their own leaders and executive council (EC) by rejecting the offer.
Fire authority bosses had offered a pay increase of 2 percent for this year—backdated to 1 July—and possible further increases in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
But the offer included the condition that firefighters agree to carry on performing extra duties. And bosses wouldn’t even guarantee that the further increases would actually be paid.
The rejection is a further sign that public sector workers are increasingly fed up with years of below-inflation wage increases that are effectively pay cuts.
It’s also the result of bitter anger among firefighters at being asked to carry out extra work without the extra pay to compensate (see below). Firefighters in 32 fire brigades have been taking part in trials of co-responding—or emergency medical response—since 2015.
This means firefighters respond to emergencies such as heart attacks alongside paramedics. The idea is that the fire service is more likely to arrive sooner than the ambulance service, and so can give treatment before paramedics arrive.
Trials have also involved responding to slips, trips and falls and winter warmth checks for older and vulnerable people among other duties.
Bosses offered a pay deal in July that promised a 2 percent pay increase for 2017. It also hinted at a 3 percent increase from 2018 but only if the FBU agreed to extend the trials—and only if the government would give fire authorities extra funding.
The FBU launched a consultation, rightly recommending that members reject the offer—which they did.
Fire bosses then wrote to the FBU last month “clarifying” the same offer. But they hinted that extra government funding wouldn’t be available unless the FBU agreed to carry on the extra work.
And they threatened that if the FBU rejected the deal they would only offer a pay deal of 1 percent for 2017.
This time the EC recommended to members that they accept the offer.
In a letter to members, FBU president Alan McLean said this was because “The executive council believe that the employers’ offer is the last one they will make on pay.”
He added, “Being aware that no further improvement would be offered it would have been lunacy not to take this back to the membership.”
McLean also insisted that if bosses didn’t confirm the further pay rises, then the extra work would stop.
But firefighters rejected the offer. A leaflet circulated by FBU members called it “a derisory additional 1 percent offer for us to continue the trials and wider workstreams.”
It pointed out that the “concerns” the EC had with the original offer hadn’t gone away.
It warned that “Accepting the employers’ pay offer without a government guarantee to fund it may mean paying for our pay rise”. This would be “with further cuts to our Fire and Rescue services and possibly even our own jobs”.
“We need to build a strong campaign on pay to first and foremost address what we have lost over seven years of pay restraint,” it said. “And we need to do this to continue talking about taking on additional work”.
And one firefighter on Twitter said, “If you want extra money let’s get it for the great work we currently do and be prepared to fight”.
FBU members were right to reject the deal, and the trials will now stop.
The FBU has to fight fire service cuts with action, not by accepting extra work and pay cuts. The government is on the back foot over public sector pay—and other unions are preparing a fight. The FBU has to fight for a pay increase that beats inflation and makes up for years of pay cuts.
Firefighters refuse to take on extra duties
Anger over being asked to take on more duties drove many firefighters to reject the pay offer.
FBU leaders had hoped that agreeing to take on such extra work permanently would help to protect firefighters from further job cuts. Bosses have justified cuts by pointing to falling emergency calls to the fire service.
A statement by the executive committee (EC) earlier this year said, “There has been a downward trend in calls to fire and other emergencies. In addition there has been a related downward trend in fire deaths and injuries.
“Fire and rescue authorities have continued to cut stations, numbers of firefighters, appliances, appliance availability.
“The arguments used to justify these cuts and closures are based around a ‘demand’ model. This treats the fire and rescue service as though it were a commercial organisation selling a commodity.”
But many firefighters are against continuing co-responding unless they get a pay increase that reflects the extra work and makes up for years of low wages.
There were also concerns about the type of work firefighters would be asked to do, and the standard of training they would get.
Firefighters debated the trials and their wages at an FBU conference in March this year. They voted to demand that the trials end “no later than the end of November 2017”.
The same vote also agreed that “in the absence of an acceptable pay settlement for 2017” the extra work would stop.
At a later conference in May FBU members also agreed to put in a claim for pay “to catch up for loss of earnings” caused by limits on public sector pay. The claim also had to address “broadening of the work required of FBU members” such as emergency medical response.