FBU Pay Claim

23 January 2002

There is information on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website about the Fire Service Emergency Cover Review linking to the Report of the Task Group to the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils.  This Report, with which the FBU cooperated and accepted, covered new methodology for the provision of Fire Services Emergency Cover and an integrated approach to risk management.  This gives credence to the view that the Bain Report was simply gesture politics to give the impression that the Government were responding to an objective process.  This is clearly not the case in view of the prior existence of a far more comprehensive Report and the contradictions between this and the Bain Report.

03 December 2002

From reading the information sent to me by constituents, the FBU, the Employers, and the Government, I came to the conclusion that firefighters have lost out as a result of an outdated pay formula linking their pay to that of manual workers and so do deserve a substantial increase in pay. 40% was obviously a starting point for negotiation. When I met with firefighters at Bournbrook and Kings Norton Stations before the strikes, the view that FBU Members wanted to avoid strike action if at all possible and to find a middle ground that is acceptable to all came across loud and clear. This wish has also been demonstrated by the firefighters’ suspension of their second eight day strike to participate in peace talks at the Acas conciliation service with their local authority employers.

Whilst I initially queried the FBU’s refusal to participate in the Review by Sir George Bain, on hearing the results of the Review I was surprised and very disappointed that Bain dismissed without explanation the firefighters’ fundamental case that there should be recognition of the increased sophistication and complexity of their role since their pay formula was agreed 25 years ago. In effect, Bain has put forward the position that the 4% offer this year is non-negotiable and strings are attached to future increases. I could therefore understand the firefighters’ anger especially as their assertion that a 16.1% offer was being considered by their employers last June (with a 6.8% increase proposed for November 2002) has proved to be correct. Having read the Bain Review, I have to come to the conclusion that, sadly, the FBU was correct in its view that Bain was not truly independent and was constrained by Government policy.

On November 21st talks were held overnight and the local government employers and the FBU agreed the basis of a settlement – however, the Government refused to fund the additional money needed to make this offer a reality. Unsurprisingly, the firefighters were deeply disappointed and angry at this.

As the suspension of the next planned strike shows, the firefighters want meaningful negotiations.  They already accept the need to change to a more pro-active service, indeed, they co-operated with a Government review that took place in 2000. However, the Government have to show willing to move beyond the Bain recommendations, which did not include a thorough examination of the firefighters’ case, a point I made to John Prescott in the debate after his statement to the House of Commons on 21 November (click here for the Hansard record of my intervention).  I am hoping that the Government will move, as the other sides in the dispute have done to allow a positive outcome form the talks at Acas, to prevent further strikes going ahead.

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Hansard record of my interventions during debates on the FBU pay dispute

21 Nov 2002 : Column 899

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): When MPs’ salaries were reviewed, a thorough analysis was undertaken of the way that our jobs had changed by contrast with comparative professions. I have read the Bain interim report and it is clear that no such analysis has been undertaken of the fundamental element of the firefighters’ claim. We all want the strike to be called off, even at this late hour. The firefighters have moved. Is it not time that the employers were allowed to move from the 4 per cent. Now, take it or leave it position?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Let me make it clear: the employers’ resources have to cover all local authority workers—I know that my hon. Friend will be extremely concerned about all such workers in her constituency—who have just settled for a two-year deal of less than 4 per cent. A year. Would they not feel angry if 40 per cent. Was given to the firefighters without an agreement? The nurses’ agreement will soon take place. There will be all sorts of agreements and my hon. Friend will fight for each of them, but she is not paying for them. We have to find a solution.


14 Nov 2002 : Column 150

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): The people who should be condemned today are the hoax callers, not the firefighters, who feel that they have no alternative but to take this strike action. I spoke to firefighters in my constituency and urged them to wait for Bain. I was surprised at the support that I received, but now they feel deeply angered because Bain has dismissed without explanation their fundamental case that there should be recognition of the increased sophistication and complexity of their role since their pay formula was agreed 25 years ago. Does my right hon. Friend understand that there can be no basis for negotiations unless that omission is recognised? I agree that there is need for reform, but we must understand that the impressive nature of our fire service is due to the interdependence and camaraderie of our firefighters. That must be defended at all costs.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not disagree with what my hon. Friend says about solidarity among firefighters at the fire station. I think we are all aware of it. I am a great admirer of firefighters: I think they are exceptional, and last night, notwithstanding the dispute, some wanted to go out and help. However, I am facing a dispute between employers and employees, and little information is available to allow a judgment on the competing claims.

I set up the Bain inquiry. It would have been helpful if the fire workers had given the inquiry their evidence on all these complex issues. Instead, they attacked the inquiry and members of it, and said that they would not accept what it said. It was not merely a case of their not presenting the complex arguments. Then, when the inquiry’s report was delivered, they refused to discuss it. I cannot accept that there is no forum for them to make their case. Other fire workers said, "Let us wait for the Bain report", but it was not discussed because their colleagues were not prepared to accept it.

These fire workers wanted a 40 per cent. Increase in their basic pay. As I have made clear time and again, that is not possible. The fire workers have not deviated: they have said that it must be 40 per cent. Or nothing. When I said that in the event of a dispute lives would be endangered, they said, "It is not our responsibility. The Government and local authorities are responsible for safety." That is a very dangerous argument, and the fire workers should think carefully before going too far along that road.

The fire workers have been given one opportunity, and we are now giving them another. If they have modernisation proposals that they could not give to Bain and did not want to discuss, let them put those proposals to the employers, and start talking. We know that if they talk rather than walk, more people will live.

14 Nov 2002


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