The army could be called in for cover if firefighters across the country vote to strike amid a pay dispute, it is being reported.
The Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) is balloting more than 33,000 members on whether to take industrial action after rejecting the offer of a “derisory” 5 per cent pay increase, with votes being counted on Friday.
But with the union confident strikes will go ahead, ministers have already started to organise the deployment of army personnel and private contractors, the Independent reports.
An RAF base near London will reportedly be used for soldiers and fire engines.
The union is calling for a UK-wide pay rise for firefighters through the National Joint Council. The council has agreed to meet the union on February 8.
“It is entirely possible for the employers to avoid a national fire strike but to do so they need to revise their current position on pay,” General Secretary Matt Wrack said on Wednesday.
Mr Wrack said the union is “confident” that its members will vote “overwhelmingly for national strike action” in a letter to Westminster.
“FBU members have suffered years of pay freezes, or low or below inflation pay rises. This situation cannot continue. The current offer from the employers has been rejected by FBU members,” he wrote.
“To be clear, no offer currently presented either nationally or locally, adequately addresses the issue of falling real wages.”
If a national fire strike is held, it would be the first of its kind since 2015 and the first on pay since 2003.
Around 1,200 army personnel have been drafted to help during previous public sector strikes, including during industrial action by Border Force and ambulance staff in the lead up to Christmas.
In December Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said the military is “busy” and should not be treated as “spare capacity”.
He said armed forces should not be treated as the “ultimate backstop” for major industrial action.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Setting firefighter pay is the responsibility of employers, working through the National Joint Council; the Home Office plays no role in the negotiation or funding of firefighter pay.
“We thank firefighters who work tirelessly to protect our communities and are committed to ensuring fire and rescue services have the resources they need to keep us safe.”