Socialist Worker

Firefighters must get more than cops

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1813

THE MOOD for a serious fight over pay in the fire brigade is hotting up. Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) were to march in Swansea this Saturday and the union has called further demonstrations on the Isle of Wight and in Belfast next week.

A strike ballot is set to be called from a special FBU conference in Manchester on 12 September. A lively lobby of Strathclyde Fire Board in Glasgow on Thursday of last week showed the level of support for a strike. Around 200 FBU members were furious to hear the convenor of the Fire Board say it may make a statement on the pay October.

Ken Ross, chair of the FBU in Strathclyde, said, 'Our members are outraged that while the board have refused to support our claim, they have yet again increased the salaries of the chief and assistant chief officers. 'This has meant that within 17 weeks the chief officer has been awarded two pay rises that amount to more than a firefighter earns in a year.'

John McDonald, FBU executive member for Scotland, added, 'The pay of firefighters and emergency control staff is so low that many qualify for Working Families Tax Credit. People who work 42 hours a week, including 14 and 16-hour night shifts, providing a life saving service, should not have to rely on benefit to make ends meet.'

The demonstration in Swansea comes after similar marches and mass meetings across Britain. Firefighters and control room staff are demanding:

  • £30,000 a year for a professional firefighter.
  • Firefighters working the retained duty system ('part-time firefighters') should be recognised as providing a professional service and be paid an hourly rate of £13.74. They are currently on £6.20 an hour.
  • A rise along similar lines for control room staff. They are currently paid 92 percent of the firefighters' rate.
  • A revision of the pay formula, which since 1978 has determined firefighters' pay rises. The original pay formula came out of the last and only national firefighters' strike in 1977.

Employers in the early 1970s responded to calls for higher pay by announcing a series of inquiries. They are trying the same trick today. The inquiries, however, meant that firefighters' pay fell in the years running up to the 1977 strike. That's why no one is falling for the offer of an inquiry today.

The pay formula linked firefighters' pay to male manual earnings. But the growth of the service sector pay rises in white collar jobs over the last 25 years has meant the formula has delivered smaller and smaller rises. The firefighters' campaign is at the sharp end of the pressure for higher pay across the public sector.

A victory for them would increase the confidence of nurses and health workers, council workers, teachers, lecturers, post workers and others to fight.

FIREFIGHTER: Fully qualified rate is £21,531 a year for a 42-hour week. Firefighters remain at the same qualified rate until retirement. There are no annual increments.

The number of emergency calls firefighters respond to has increased in every area across Britain. Yet posts have been lost in most areas.

POLICE: Constables outside London are on £23,323 a year for a 36.2-hour week, before overtime. After 14 years those on the police bottom grade are on £29,062 basic.

Police in London get £6,111 extra for working in the capital and free transport within a 73-mile radius. The number of police has risen steadily.

Demonstrate Saturday 17 August 11.30am, West Car Park, County Hall, Swansea

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Article information

Sat 17 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1813
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