Fire Brigades Union (FBU) of 40% or the threat to strike, have today
highlighted the economic impact, if equivalent claims were to be made across
the public sector. If all public sector workers demanded the same increase
20% or 3.9p in the pound. Employers do not believe that the UK taxpayer
would accept such an increase particularly at a time when the public is
concerned that any additional government funding for public services should
not be swallowed up in over-inflated wage demands made by the most vocal
unions in the sector.
As fire employers prepared to submit their evidence to the independent
inquiry into the fire service, headed by George Bain, they reiterated
their call on the Fire Brigades Union to postpone strike action, should the
union achieve a majority vote in its ballot result due to be announced
tomorrow. Employers remain incredulous that the FBU would seek to bring fire
fighters out on strike and consequently put lives at risk rather than hold
off action for only one month - the date when the independent review is due
The evidence submitted to the inquiry includes recommendations on
modernisation of the service:
- Modernising conditions of service - despite the operational efficiency of
the service, there are serious shortcomings in the deployment of resources
due to the rigidity of the national framework. This includes simplifying the
rank structure and introducing more flexibility into shift systems. No
headway has been possible on modernising conditions of service due to Union
opposition, despite examples being set elsewhere in the public sector.
- Changing role of fire service and employees - the philosophy in the fire
service continues to be one of increasing investment in prevention rather
than just reactive response to fires and other emergencies. This requires
cultural change where community protection is at the heart of the service
not peripheral to firefighting. The employers want to introduce a range of
collaborative working arrangements with local communities and agencies
(social services, health, education, probation etc) to reduce risk to life.
- Changing approach to risk management - traditionally the deployment of
firefighting resources has been determined by an assessment of property
risk. The service is now working towards an approach that puts greater
emphasis on life risk. Because people move around, the service will need the
flexibility to move resources around so that the right personnel and
equipment are available in the right place at the right time. The Union
opposes this change.
- Achieving greater fairness, equality, diversity and cultural change - the
fire service needs to better reflect the diverse communities it serves. But
there is a long way to go before this becomes a reality. Currently 99%of
fire fighters are male and 98.5% are white.
The FBU's belief that the fire service has already modernised is based
largely on its popularity with the public, on greater emphasis being given
to fire safety, on the service's adaptation to new equipment and techniques,
and on the first steps being taken to achieve a more representative
workforce. However, this is not enough to justify a claim that it has
modernised. Attitudes and working practices are remarkably unchanged over
the last 25-30 years despite huge changes outside the service. The
prevailing culture is one that resists change that in any way involves
switching resources to an overall improved effect.
While employers are committed to bringing about a radical change in the way
the fire service works, with far greater emphasis being given to fire
prevention, this requires more flexibility in the way resources are deployed
but would not result in job losses. The FBU strongly opposes the removal of
restrictive practices that are making modernisation difficult, if not
However, an overwhelming 88% of the public believe that it is reasonable for
management to be able to deploy fire fighters wherever they are most needed
to save lives.
For example, in Greater Manchester the fire authority wants to redistribute
its firefighting resources in order to reduce attendance times and improve
fire cover provided to the communities in Leigh and Wigan. It proposed to do
this by reducing from two to one the number of fire engines at one fire
station and then building a new station in a more strategic location and
relocating the second engine there. The cost of the new station is in excess
of£1m and the scheme will create five new jobs. The FBU supports the
new station but opposes the movement of the second fire engine from the
current station. It is running a misleading local media campaign seeking to
persuade local residents that their fire cover will be reduced and lives put
in danger when the fire authority's proposal will actually improve the level
of fire cover and reduce risk to life. In numerous examples around the
country proposals for shared use of control room facilities with the police
and ambulance services have met with implacable opposition even though no
jobs were at risk. In Cleveland, the fire authority wished to relocate the
control room to a new site with the police and ambulance control rooms. Job
security was guaranteed. However, the FBU started a ballot for strike
action, ignoring agreed disputes procedure. The authority had to decide not
to pursue the proposal in the face of the ballot's expected result. The new
site would have been part funded by additional money from the government and
would have provided better operational facilities and an improved working
environment. In Wiltshire, agreement was reached between the local branch of
the FBU and the fire authority for a shared control room, only for the FBU's
consent to be withdrawn on instructions from FBU head office.
The employers are made up of the LGA, Cosla and the Fire Authority of
In a recent public opinion poll
- 64% believe that an immediate 4% (over twice the annual rate of inflation)
and an independent review is a reasonable offer
- 53% believe that the union's demand for between a 39-49% increase is not
- 79% believe that any increase in pay above the 4% should be linked to
changes in the service
- 54% are confident that the army will provide adequate cover to protect
homes and lives if a national strike occurs.
Fire Services Dispute: The Facts
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is currently balloting its members on strike
action. This follows the FBU's rejection of the employers' offer of an
interim 4% pay increase plus a commitment to implementing the results of an
independent enquiry subject to government funding.
This leaflet explains why the employers think their approach is reasonable
and suggests a way of avoiding a potentially damaging dispute.
How does firefighters' pay compare with other occupations?
A fully qualified firefighter would earn£22,392 per year if the Employers'
interim 4% offer were accepted. Firefighters' pay compares favorably to the
average full-time rate elsewhere in local government. The average full-time
pay for those covered by the National Joint Council for Local Government
Services is£17,278. Over 95% of full time local government staff covered by
the National Joint Council earn under the£30,000 per annum, which the FBU
are claiming for firefighters.In relation to the whole economy, firefighters
are in the top half of the national earnings league for full-timers. 50% of
male full-timers in the April 2001 New Earnings Survey earned less than£408
a week gross, whereas average earnings for qualified firefighters
(firefighter being the lowest operational rank) at that time were£416 a
How many firefighters claim Working Families' Tax Credit?
Only 0.4% of firefighters claim Working Families' Tax Credit - that is only
216 firefighters and control room staff out of 57,200 uniformed personnel in
the country. This is a much lower rate of claiming WFTC than for the working
population as a whole.Working Families Tax Credit is not in any case a
reliable indicator of poverty. It is for people on low or middle incomes,
who work 16 hours or more a week and are responsible for one or more
children. It is possible for an individual earning over£30,000 or even
£40,000 to be eligible.
If the salary levels are considered low, it must be difficult to recruit
No. There are few problems of recruitment in the fire service. A recent
survey of fire authorities up and down the country shows that on average
each firefighter vacancy attracts 42 applicants.
Type of Work
Isn't the job of a firefighter very dangerous, so shouldn't they be paid
more because of that?
Many situations faced by firefighters are hazardous, but the risk of death
and injury is lower than for some other hazardous occupations, for example
construction, trawler fishing and agriculture. In a recent research letter
to the Lancet, firefighters were 23rd in a list of 30 hazardous occupations.
Government statistics show a marked reduction of fire-related injuries in
the service over recent years (1,287 in 1990, compared to 683 in 2000).
This is because employers, in partnership with the FBU, have introduced
stringent health and safety procedures. Much money is invested in providing
the right protective equipment and effective training.
Hasn't there been a huge increase in the workload of firefighters in the
last ten years?
There has been a significant change since the late 1970s, when the total
number of calls was around 500,000 with fewer false alarms and special
service calls. However, over the last ten years the number and pattern of
calls has been more stable.An Audit Commission report shows that less than
10% of firefighters' duty time is spent at fires and other incidents.
Why is modernisation of the fire service so difficult?
Employers are committed to bringing about a radical change in the way the
fire service works, with far greater emphasis being given to fire
prevention, even though high quality firefighting will always play a key
role. This needs more flexibility in the way resources are used, and a
service that reflects and can work successfully with the community. The FBU
strongly opposes the removal of the restrictive practices that are making
modernisation difficult.The Audit Commission supports the Employers' view
that existing conditions of service prevent the introduction of new flexible
practices that could significantly affect the performance of the fire
service. These include:- Inflexible shift and crewing systems that
significantly reduce the fire service's ability to respond flexibly to
varying degrees of risk- Practices that prevent firefighters from
volunteering to do paid overtime in response to sickness and planned leave-
Practices that prevent collaboration between fire brigades and other
emergency services as a matter of courseIn a recent public opinion poll, 79%
of those surveyed thought it reasonable that any increase in pay above 4%
for fire fighters should be linked with changes that will deliver a better
service for the public.
Cost of Claim
What would be the cost of meeting the claim?
The total cost of meeting the FBU claim would be£450m per annum, or
£520m including pension costs.This claim, for just 50,000
firefighters, would cost the same as this year's award to 1.25 million local
government workers.The average district hospital costs, very roughly,£125m. So the firefighters' pay claim equates to just over four hospitals a year.
How can employers justify an offer of 4% as reasonable?
The 4% offer is interim and part of an overall package offered by the
employers. The employers have offered the firefighters an unconditional 4%
pay rise from 7 November. This would be linked to an offer to change the
method of calculating the annual pay increase. If this new formula is
agreed and produces an increase of more than 4%, the employers will pay that
extra backdated to 7 November. If the pay increase determined by using the
new formula is less than 4%, no money will be reclaimed. The employers
would also agree to pay any increase recommended by a government enquiry if
this is backed by new government money. A strike is an extreme and drastic
form of action that, in the fire service, will put lives at risk. The
employers cannot offer more than they have already offered without
government support. They believe the best chance of getting that support is
if the firefighters' claim is tested independently by an inquiry. A strike
is therefore both unnecessary and counter-productive.In a recent opinion
poll, 64% of those surveyed said they thought an immediate 4% pay rise
together with the potential for further increases pending the independent
review, is a reasonable offer.