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2,000-plus firefighters and Control Room staff attend rally in Westminster

10 December 2022

ON TUESDAY 6 December, over 2,000 firefighters and Control Room staff from across the UK assembled in Westminster to protest against what they perceive to be low pay after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) opened a strike ballot on Monday 5 December.

*Photograph courtesy of Mark Thomas/Fire Brigades Union

Extraordinary scenes witnessed numerous key individuals – among them serving MPs – speaking to a packed Methodist Central Hall, with hundreds of firefighters and Control Room staff gathered outside in an overflow area.

MPs including Zarah Sultana and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowds, so too the FBU’s general secretary Matt Wrack and several FBU officials and members. Subsequent to the gathering, firefighters and Control Room staff marched to Parliament with a view towards lobbying their MPs on the issue of pay.

Firefighters and Control Room staff recently received a 5% pay offer from the Government, which the FBU asserts would constitute a significant real-terms pay cut with annual CPI inflation currently standing at 11.1%.

FBU members voted to reject that pay offer, with 79% voting against it in a consultative ballot. As stated, the strike ballot opened on Monday 5 December and is due to close on Monday 30 January.

Demonstration of anger

Speaking to the assembled crowd, Matt Wrack observed: “You’ve turned out in your hundreds. I think this demonstrates the anger that’s out there. The Government has found £45 billion in tax cuts to give away to millionaires, but they will tell you that there’s no money for pay and no money for the Fire and Rescue Service. Corporations enjoy record profits. Some people are becoming richer and richer, and yet the Government tells us there’s no money.”

If a national strike were to take place, it would be the first enacted by the FBU since pension action between 2013 and 2015 (which did not include Control Room staff) and the first related to pay since 2002-2003.

All FBU members covered by Grey Book Terms and Conditions (eg wholetime firefighters, retained firefighters and Control Room staff) are being balloted for strike action. North West Fire Control members, who are not covered by the Grey Book, will also be balloted. Members such as Green Book staff (ie non-uniformed staff) will not be balloted on this occasion.

Due to “restrictive anti-Trade Union” laws, the ballot is a postal ballot only.

Last resort

Matt Wrack went on to comment: “Strike action will always be a last resort, but we are running out of options. Many firefighters and Control Room staff are desperate. Some are struggling to afford for themselves and their families to live. It’s a dreadful and very serious state of affairs. We are doing everything we can to secure a decent offer. We have held talks with and written letters to many different parties.”

He continued: “It’s the responsibility of Fire and Rescue Service employers and the Governments to pay firefighters properly. That is part of their responsibility of running the Fire and Rescue Service. We look forward to receiving a pay offer from them that addresses the cost-of-living crisis firefighters and Control Room staff are living through. We’ve been mandated by our members to fight for pay that they can live on and we will do just that.”

Pay dispute timeline

Firefighters and Control Room staff are vital Emergency Services workers who served on the front line throughout the entire COVID period. During this period, and with the agreement of the FBU, firefighters provided additional services to communities and undertook extra areas of work in a bid to help the country through one of the worst crises in living memory.

On 27 June this year, Fire and Rescue Service employers made what the FBU referenced as an “insulting” pay offer of just 2%. The FBU has stated: “This offer came after 12 years of Government-imposed austerity and a pay policy which has led to wages falling in real terms. Further, the offer was utterly inadequate in the face of the emerging cost-of-living crisis where FBU members are increasingly struggling to make ends meet.”

Inflation is expected to hit over 18% in January 2023 (source: The Financial Times) in parallel with dramatic increases in energy bills.

Following a period of national consultation with members, the June pay offer was rejected unanimously by the Executive Council in July and the result relayed to Fire and Rescue Service employers on the same day.

Home Office communication

Fire and Rescue Service employers then wrote to the Home Office on 2 August requesting additional funding to improve pay. The Home Office “unequivocally declined” this request.

Throughout August and September, the FBU ran a substantial campaign of membership engagement, branch meetings and mass meetings. Entitled ‘Fair Pay or Fire Strike’, the campaign publicly displayed the anger of FBU members at the 2% pay offer and outlined the determination to move to strike action in the fight for fair pay.

On 4 October, Fire and Rescue Service employers at the National Joint Council made a revised pay offer of a 5% increase on all Grey Book rates of pay, including CPD, from 1 July 2022.

Then, on 14 November – and after a two-week consultative ballot – FBU members delivered “a clear verdict” with a 79% vote to reject the 5% offer. 78% of eligible members voted in the ballot.