Firefighters' Pay

The National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services (NJC) is the body responsible for determining firefighters' pay and conditions.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) represents over 85% of the Fire and Rescue Services' uniformed staff.

Background

The current Firefighters' pay formula dates back to the settlement of the last major fire service strikes of 1977 and 1978. This linked pay to the 'upper quarter' of 'industrial workers' wages. Since that time, the number, importance and relative pay rates of 'industrial workers' has declined dramatically. At the same time, the demands being placed on firefighters, through expanded duties and staff shortages, has risen.

In 2001 and 2002, Firefighters and the FBU argued increasingly that they were underpaid for the dangerous and demanding work they did, and the FBU began a campaign calling for Firefighters' basic pay to be increased to £30,000 per annum - an increase of 40 per cent.

An initial offer of four per cent from the employers was rejected by the FBU, which was followed by a phased offer of 16 per cent (which would take basic pay up to £25,000) conditional on substantial 'modernisation' - meaning reforming working practices and job losses. This deal fell through, and a 48-hour strike began on 13th November 2002, followed by an eight-day strike which started on 22nd November.

After this strike, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair made a statement to the Commons warning that any pay rise above four per cent would have to be compensated with reforms to working practices.

The Bain Review published on 16th December 2002, which was commissioned by the Deputy Prime Minister earlier in the dispute as a means of depoliticising the row, set out an extensive programme for modernisation, linked to a two-year 11 per cent pay settlement.

The FBU rejected the Bain report, but the employers took it up as a precondition of resuming negotiations, resulting in more strikes, until eventually an agreement was reached in June 2003.

A new Pay & Conditions document provided for a staged increase in pay – 4% backdated to November 2002; 7% with effect from November 2003; and 4.2% in July 2004, giving firefighters a cumulative rise of 16%, bringing basic pay for a competent firefighter to £25,000.

However, the pay increases were dependent on progress being made in the modernisation of services and the National Employers decided that sufficient progress had only been made for 3.5% to be paid in November 2003. Further strike action was threatened, until it was made clear in 2004 that the remaining 3.5% would be paid and backdated to November 2003.

In June 2003, the Government published its White Paper, 'Our Fire and Rescue Service', which set out plans for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to play a much more active role in pay disputes in future. The Fire Services Bill 2003 gave the Secretary of State a power to impose a solution to fire disputes, to impose conditions on fire brigade members and to issue general directions to Fire Authorities.

Controversies

The FBU claimed that the 2002/2003 pay dispute was prolonged by the Government's prevarication: firstly, in not endorsing the 16 per cent offer, and latterly in intervening in support of the employers but without providing additional funding.

The local authorities believed that the firefighters' 40 per cent demand was unreasonable, partly because a settlement had earlier been reached with other local authority staff. The Government also rejected the 40 per cent demand on the basic grounds of cost, and the additional impact it would have in driving up other public sector pay claims. During the dispute, the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Edward George, spoke out to warn that the deal would fuel inflation and unemployment.

The Army's 'green goddess' fire engines were deployed during the strikes and their shortcomings, in comparison to the Fire Service's modern engines, led many to call for the Government to ban Fire Service strikes, but this option was rejected in the White Paper.

The Comprehensive Spending Review of October 2010 outlined significant cuts to most government departments and public services necessitated by the need to reduce the scale of the UK's huge deficit. Chancellor George Osborne said the fire and rescue services could limit cuts to their budgets "in return for substantial operational reform". However, the Fire Brigades Union responded angrily, claiming that tens of thousands of jobs were under threat because of the budget cuts planned for the next four years.

In addition, firefighters are facing a pay freeze for the third year running after submissions for a pay increase in line with inflation for 2010 and 2011 were not accepted, leading to a vote at the 2011 FBU conference for a campaign “which, if necessary, should culminate in a ballot for industrial action up to and including strike action.”

And opposition to the cuts also shows no sign of abating. Despite the announcement in March 2012 of a £74 million central grant to upgrade fire service command and control centres, the FBU said it remained "deeply concerned" about staff cuts, mergers, the creation of a regional control in the north-west and the privatisation of London's control room.

The FBU has also been strongly critical of the increases in firefighter pension contributions announced for April 2012 to March 2013, describing them as "an unwelcome step at a time of pay freeze and high rates of inflation."
 

Statistics

Annual Salaries:

Firefighter
Trainee £21,157 (£ 9.66 per hour; overtime rate £14.49 )
Development £22,038 (£10.06 per hour; overtime rate £15.09 )
Competent £28,199 (£12.88 per hour; overtime £19.32 )

Crew Manager
Development £29,971 (£13.69 per hour; overtime rate £20.54 )
Competent £31,263 (£14.28 per hour; overtime £21.42 )

Watch Manager
Development £31,940 (£14.58 per hour; overtime £21.87 )
Competent A £32,827 (£14.99 per hour; overtime £22.49 )
Competent B £34,961(£15.96 per hour; overtime £23.94 )

Station Manager
Development £36,365 (£16.60 per hour; overtime £24.90 )
Competent A £37,456 (£17.10 per hour; overtime £25.65 )
Competent B £40,109 (£18.31per hour; overtime £27.47 )

Group Manager
Development £41,881 (£19.12 per hour) -
Competent A £43,138 (£19.70 per hour) -
Competent B £46,428 (£21.20 per hour)-

Area Manager
Development £49,167 (£22.45 per hour)-
Competent A £50,642 (£23.12 per hour)-
Competent B £53,934 (£24.63 per hour)

Source: RBFS - 2012
 

Quotes

“In the 1970s it was hard to recruit firefighters because this was a low paid industry. We cannot and will not allow it to go back to being a low paid industry.”

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, speaking at the FBU conference – May 2011

"Fire authorities are in the best position to know what is needed in their areas. It is good news that government has listened to our call for the resources to help us plan locally and put Fire Control equipment to good use."

Cllr Brian Coleman, Chairman of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee, responding to the announcement of £74 million fire control centre funding – March 2012
 

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