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Local services :: Fire service
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THE 250 delegates to the FBU's second recall special conference voted overwhelmingly to reject the employers' final offer on pay linked to modernisation. However, conference also voted to accept an emergency resolution tabled by the Executive Council (EC) by a majority of 2:1.
This resolution will allow the EC to pursue negotiations around the so called 'Burchill proposals' even though a sub committee of the employers has already rejected them.
The main opposition motion to the EC position was moved by Matt Wrack, on behalf of the London region. London's resolution restated the four points of the current pay campaign and called for the defence of national conditions of service, including the national shift system. It also stated that any pay increase should not be at the expense of fire service jobs, or fire cover to the public.
Many delegates showed their support for the London motion, both in passionate debate and by loud applause. Unfortunately, following a card vote on the day and vigorous lobbying by the EC the previous evening, delegates felt that Burchill's proposals should be considered by the membership.
Burchill, the 'independent' chair of the national joint council of the fire service, has called for some minor concessions from the employers on the issues of local flexibility on shift patterns and on a revised disputes procedure. The key issue of ending the overtime ban and maintaining a national standard of fire cover remains, which will lead to the loss of 5,000 jobs and the closure of fire stations.
Equally, the employers are determined to end all elements of control by the union over shift patterns and staffing, particularly on nights and that has in effect been accepted by the FBU leadership.
There is no equal pay for the control staff and no pay formula to replace the existing one either. Both were key points of the original claim.
The union leadership is desperate to reach some sort of agreement with the employers whilst a sizeable section of the membership is still prepared to fight against the bosses' offensive.
The pay offer of 4% this year, to be followed up with other rises over three years, is still dependent on the rises being 'self-financed' by those changes in 'working practices'.
This dispute has been running for well over a year, with 15 days of strikes and 29 days of cancelled strikes. The strikes have remained solid with almost 100% support from the rank and file. The original claim was to bring the salary for a trained firefighter with four years' experience up to £30,000, from the present £21,500.
New Labour, with their agenda of driving down wages in the public sector and mass privatisation, were deadly afraid of the effect that the firefighters' strike was having on other public sector workers. Many said: "If the firefighters win, we should also fight to end our own low pay". But Labour's smear campaign was only partially successful and public support still remains high.
At the start of this struggle many firefighters perhaps thought they could force the government to concede much of their claim - after all 87.6% voted for the action in a secret ballot. But it soon became clear they would find it difficult to succeed alone, without the help of the wider trade union movement.
There was widespread support for the firefighters and many workers were prepared to take action, demonstrated by the London Underground workers at the start of the strikes.
Bain's proposals, designed to minimise firefighters' control over their working conditions, even if amended by Burchill, could result in localised and regional action against its implementation.
The firefighters are still on a collision course with the bosses. Any new offer based on the Burchill proposals will not begin to meet the firefighters' demands. It should be rejected and a programme of strike action implemented.
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Fire service (71)
Article dated 26 April 2003
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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