British firefighters accept new pay deal, averting strikes

Members of the Fire Brigades Union take part in a rally regarding possible future strike action linked to a pay dispute, in London

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -British firefighters have voted to accept an improved pay offer from fire service employers, their trade union said on Monday, averting the possibility of more disruptive strike action in a critical public service.

Unions representing workers across a range of sectors have been pushing for pay rises that better reflect double-digit inflation in Britain.

Around 96% of Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members who took part in a ballot voted in favour of the new pay offer, the union said. The turnout for the ballot was 84%.

The pay offer entails a 7% rise backdated to last July and another 5% increase from July this year. The union leadership had recommended the new offer to its members last month, calling it a "significant shift" from a previous offer of just 2%.

"The FBU leadership has been determined not to sugar-coat the offer," FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said in a statement.

"For the current year, 7% is still another real terms pay cut. For the following year, when inflation is forecast to be lower, 5% may amount to a slight increase in real terms pay."

The firefighters had voted in January for a nationwide strike, which would have been their first national walkout on pay since 2003.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been facing pressure to help end a wave of disruptive strike action by largely public-sector workers like nurses and ambulance staff, teachers, civil servants and rail workers.

Sunak has outlined plans for legislation that will ensure key public services — like fire, ambulance and rail services —maintain minimum safety levels during industrial action.

The FBU and other trade unions have said they would oppose the bill.

Ambulance worker strikes planned for this week have been paused in order to hold pay talks with the government.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; editing by William James)