Pay rise will be a lifeline for some firefighters, union leader says
The new pay rise for firefighters will be a “lifeline” for those in the service who have “horror stories” about how the cost-of-living crisis has affected them, a union leader has said.
Firefighters voted to accept a pay deal, aimed at averting strike action, earlier on Monday.
General secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Matt Wrack told the PA news agency that although the pay rise will “alter” lives in the context of the cost-of-living crisis, the service still needs further investment and a long-term solution on pay.
An improved offer was made in February to the FBU of a 7% pay rise backdated to last July and a further 5% from July this year.
Some 96% of FBU members voted to accept the deal on an 84% turnout.
FBU members have voted overwhelmingly to accept improved pay offer from employers.Pay rise will now be implemented- including back pay.
Well done all:Not the end – a basis for next phase of our campaign.#Solidarity https://t.co/9ol8Bu0cij
— Matt Wrack (@MattWrack) March 6, 2023
Mr Wrack told PA that the deal will be a “lifeline” for some members.
He said: “We’ve certainly heard some horror stories about how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting firefighters and some members have clearly, very clearly, said to us, the pay rise will very much alter their lives in that context.”
However, Mr Wrack said that although the deal resolves pay for 2022 and 2023, as well as the threat of strike action “for now”, a “long-term solution on pay” is still needed.
It is understood the 7% backdated pay rise is below the rate of inflation for those 12 months while the 5% figure is predicted to be slightly higher than inflation.
Mr Wrack said members want the FBU to campaign for “decent pay in the long term”.
“Firefighters do a brilliant job across the UK dealing with traditional incidents – like fires and road traffic collisions, but also the new emerging threats like those arising from climate change, like extreme weather events, wildfires and floods and so on,” he added.
“Our members were over in Turkey during the earthquake over the past few weeks and to do that we think there needs to be investment, including investment for the long term in pay.”
Investment is needed in other areas besides pay, the union boss continued.
He told PA: “If you take last summer, the fire service was massively stretched by wildfires including fires breaking into areas of London and houses destroyed as a result of wildfires in London.
“We’ve not really seen anything like that in the UK before.”
He added: “If you want to deal with the threat of wildfires, or major floods, then you’ve got to discuss it, you’ve got to plan for it and then you’ve got to invest in the service.”
Mr Wrack said it was “fortunate” that strike action was not necessary in this dispute.
He hailed the power of collective bargaining – the ability of workers to negotiate directly with their employers – in helping to avoid walkouts.
“If you look at some of the other disputes, that’s where you have so called independent pay review bodies, actually government-appointed pay review bodies,” he said.
“We don’t have that, we don’t want it, we don’t want interference by government in our pay negotiations.
“We want to be able to negotiate separately and independently with our employers. The Westminster Government wants to attack that in England and we’re going to resist that.”
He added: “Collective bargaining in this case has avoided strike action, a pay review body would have guaranteed strike action.”
PA understands the FBU will also campaign against anti-strike legislation and “resist it every step of the way”.
Mr Wrack said: “We’ve got this legislation being pushed through Parliament now at breakneck speed to attack the right to strike through the Minimum Service Levels Bill and again, for us, that’s a fundamental attack on our rights as workers.
“It’s undemocratic, it’s authoritarian, it was not in the Conservative manifesto in relation to firefighters or health or teachers or so on, so it seems completely undemocratic to change the rules of industrial relations without a mandate from the electorate.”
On industrial action taking place across other sectors, Mr Wrack said that workers are “angry” at being asked to pay the price for the failures of economic systems and government policy.
Asked how he would respond to people who may be frustrated with the strikes, Mr Wrack said public support is there and that attempts by politicians to “whip up anti-union feeling” have backfired.