Firefighters postpone strikes after increased pay offer in last-minute talks

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The Fire Brigades Union had warned of strikes if a previous 5% pay offer was not increased

Strikes by firefighters have been postponed following an increased pay offer during last-minute talks with employers.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it has been offered a 7% pay rise backdated to July 2022, and then 5% from July this year. The union had warned of strikes if a previous 5% pay offer was not increased following a huge vote in favour of industrial action.

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The union’s executive has put the new offer to a ballot of its members and postponed the announcement of strike dates pending the outcome. The FBU said it will have an “honest and sober” discussion of the offer, adding that it still amounts to a real-terms pay cut given the rate of inflation.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This offer is testament to the power of collective action through the Fire Brigades Union. Last year we were offered an insulting 2%. The employers have now revised their position.

“We have achieved this increase because of the massive vote in favour of strike action by firefighters and control staff across the country, which made clear the strength of feeling among firefighters about cuts to their wages. Since 2010, the average firefighter has lost at least 12% of the value of their pay. We will now ballot our members.

“Frontline firefighters and control room staff will make the decision on whether this pay offer is considered a real improvement. Our internal discussions will be honest and sober. While the offer is improved from last year, it still amounts to a real-terms pay cut. Meanwhile, plans to announce a series of strike dates and industrial action will be postponed, pending the outcome of the ballot.”

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PA

Mr Wrack said the union’s executive will now decide whether to recommend the new offer to members and no strikes will be held while FBU members vote. The timing of the ballot is being finalised on Thursday (9 February) and is likely to take a few weeks.

No details had been given on what would happen during any strikes by firefighters but there has been speculation that the military would provide cover.

The announcement comes after the FBU on Wednesday warned that strikes would be announced if there was no “significant shift” from employers after a huge vote for industrial action over a 5% pay offer.

Mr Wrack said going on strike would be “an absolute last resort for firefighters” and the union would adopt an “open-minded and constructive approach to the talks today”.

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‘Firefighters will not be messed about’

The union said that since 2010 its members have experienced a 12% drop in real terms earnings, and in the same period, about one in five firefighter jobs have been cut.

Mr Wrack said on Wednesday: “The strength of feeling among firefighters is clear, with an 88% vote in favour of strikes by FBU members, and 94% in Northern Ireland. That’s one of the biggest mandates for industrial action by a trade union in recent years.

“The reason for that massive vote to strike is simple: firefighters are dealing with financial hardship and the growing threat of ‘in work’ poverty, with a real-terms cut to their wages. They are struggling to pay the bills during the cost-of-living crisis that this Government is presiding over. Going on strike is an absolute last resort for firefighters.”

Mr Wrack added that the action can be avoided if “employers make an offer which addresses the concerns of firefighters.”

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The government previously said the threat of strikes would be "disappointing and concerning for the public". Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, accused the government’s “reckless behaviour” and “failure to get a grip on inflation”.

She said: "No one, including firefighters themselves, wants a strike. It is this Conservative government’s reckless behaviour that has crashed the economy, and their failure to get a grip on inflation means working people are struggling more and more. This is their mess to fix."

The earliest likely date for any action would be 23 February, and if the strike goes ahead, it will be the first nationwide walkout over pay in 20 years.

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