RFU will remain at work

RETAINED firefighters have promised to protect rural Suffolk despite sympathising with colleagues' calls for better pay.Co-operation between part-time and full-time firefighters may be strained by the coming action, said John Barton, Suffolk Brigade Secretary for the Retained Firefighter's Union.

RETAINED firefighters have promised to protect rural Suffolk despite sympathising with colleagues' calls for better pay.

Co-operation between part-time and full-time firefighters may be strained by the coming action, said John Barton, Suffolk brigade secretary for the Retained Firefighter's Union (RFU).

He added his members had a moral objection to striking and would stick by the union's no-strike policy.

He said today: "The RFU has a no-strike policy which is supported by our Suffolk membership.

"We cannot morally support taking strike action so we will remain at work."

Mr Barton said RFU members were unanimous in their determination to continue working despite the strike called by their colleagues in the Fire Brigades Union.

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But he pointed out retained firefighters share concerns about levels of pay. In some cases, RFU members are paid just £6.20 an hour – or £2 above the minimum wage.

Instead of taking industrial action, Mr Barton said his members would wait for the result of an independent inquiry on pay, due to be concluded in December.

He said: "We are concerned that the working relationship and friendships we enjoy with all members of the fire service may be tested during industrial action.

"We have no argument with our striking colleagues, but our first duty is to the community and the people we serve."

A growing number of workers are considering staying at home during next week's firefighters' strike after their safety fears were "stoked up" by the government, it was revealed today.

Warnings from Prime Minister Tony Blair and his deputy, John Prescott, that fire cover provided by ageing military green goddess vehicles will only be basic have persuaded many people not to risk going to work in industries including transport, chemicals and nuclear, according to union officials.

One nuclear worker went home last night and was told by his children not to work next week after they watched Mr Prescott's Commons speech in which he warned that the risk to life and property during the strikes will be higher.

The GMB union said its officers around the country have had calls from members worried about going to work.

"The people who are stoking up problems for our members are government ministers,' said a GMB spokesman.

"John Prescott warned that on strike days there will not be enough vehicles to provide adequate cover. There will be few green goddesses, they might get lost and even if they turn up they will not have breathing apparatus on board.

"How are nuclear and other workers expected to feel after hearing these warnings?"

Firefighters' leaders were meeting today to discuss their planned wave of pay strikes which now looks set to be launched next week, following a bitter clash with the government.

The Fire Brigade Union accused ministers of trying to blackmail its members about the level of emergency cover offered during the walkouts.

The government called on the union to follow TUC guidelines set up after the "winter of discontent" in 1979 aimed at protecting the public during disputes.

But the call appeared to backfire last night after the TUC General Council issued a statement strongly supporting the firefighters.

Time was running out on any hopes of averting the strikes which will start next Tuesday and run until Christmas Eve, for a total of 36 days.

Firefighters are to present their case to MPs at a meeting in the House of Commons this evening.

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