Fire campaign steps up a gear
FIREFIGHTERS from Suffolk were joining colleagues from across the country today as the threat of industrial action rose.Leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned today that their members could be taking national strike action by the end of October in their dispute over pay, severely affecting life in Britain and hitting travel systems and major events.
By Paul Geater
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FIREFIGHTERS from Suffolk were joining colleagues from across the country today as the threat of industrial action rose.
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Leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned today that their members could be taking national strike action by the end of October in their dispute over pay, severely affecting life in Britain and hitting travel systems and major events.
Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union, said firefighters played a much bigger role in society than during the last strike in 1977.
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Sporting events such as football matches, airports and underground rail systems were dependent on proper fire cover.
The union is holding a special conference in Manchester today which is expected to sanction an industrial action ballot.
"It is entirely conceivable that we could see the second national strike before the end of October.
"We are absolutely determined to finally end the tradition of low pay in the fire service. That will be a thing of the past at the end of this dispute."
The union has rejected a 4% pay rise and is demanding a near-40% increase to take salaries from £21,500 a year to £30,000.
Suffolk FBU secretary Paul Woolstenholmes was among those at the meeting.
"There is overwhelming support for industrial action among firefighters in Suffolk. I am sure they will vote in favour in any ballot," he said.
"If that happens we will have to see what form the action takes – it will probably involve fixed-length strikes.
"If firefighters are on strike then they will not be working – it won't be a case of 'emergencies only.'
"In that case the county council, as fire authority, has a legal responsibility to provide cover and it is up to them to decide how they do it," he said.
Mr Woolstenholmes said his members would not take action lightly.
"We're members of the public. We have families, homes and property just like everyone else.
"I don't want anyone to be put at risk – but this is something firefighters feel very strongly about," he added.
Mr Gilchrist said that the FBU would play "absolutely no part' in a review of the fire service, including pay, announced last week by the Government.
Mr Gilchrist said the number of "special service' calls dealt with by the fire service, such as floods and road accidents, had doubled since 1977.
Firefighters were on strike for nine weeks in 1977-78 and the dispute ended with a formula which linked pay to the top quarter of male manual earnings.
The FBU argued that the formula was out of date because firefighters were now classed as professional and technical workers.
www.suffolkcc.gov.uk/fire/ Suffolk fire service.