Firefighters could be next to go on strike with the head of their largest union saying some are having to use food banks. They have been offered a five percent pay rise from their employers, but the Fire Brigades Union’s executive council is recommending its members reject this.
They say it actually represents a significant pay cut in real terms and say this follows a decade of real-terms pay cuts in the fire and rescue service.
Giving evidence to the home affairs select committee on Wednesday, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The question of pay is an urgent one. Pay has fallen in real terms for the past 12 years so a competent firefighter on the national rate of pay is at least some £4,000 a year worse off than if their pay had kept pace with CPI inflation.
“That is alarming. We are currently consulting about an offer from our employers.
“We have firefighters, and I’m sure, they’re very proud people – but we have firefighters using food banks.
“There is a growing crisis about the cost of living, as there is for millions of other people, but very much in the fire and rescue service and it has been allowed to drift for more than a decade.”
The FBU is balloting its members to see whether they want to reject the five percent pay offer.
If they do reject the offer it won’t automatically lead to strike action, but this could be the eventual result.
Lloyd Akers, an FBU rep and firefighter in Scunthorpe, says he is very concerned about how firefighters are having to use food banks.
Last winter he could only afford to heat two rooms of his house – his baby son’s and the living room – and this year he says the situation is similar.
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He said: “We knew the price increases were coming so have tried to budget and put money aside for it.
“But it’s got to the point where we are trying our best not to put the heating on where possible, but my son is 14 months old so we don’t really have a choice.
“My message to the government is that it’s about time that they stop giving money to their friends and start giving fair pay to the people that they were clapping for two years ago.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Setting firefighter pay is the responsibility of employers, working through the National Joint Council; The Home Office plays no role in the negotiation or funding of firefighter pay.
“We thank firefighters who work tirelessly to protect our communities and are committed to ensuring fire and rescue services have the resources they need to keep us safe.”
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If the Fire Brigades Union does strike its members will join a growing roster of unions taking industrial action this winter.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union called off train strikes for this week, causing relief among negotiators but causing disruption regardless.
But yesterday its members who work on London’s Tube system were on strike, leading to most of the network being shuttered and significantly disrupted ahead of the weekend.
And earlier this week the Royal College of Nursing announced that more than 300,000 members will be on strike this winter.
This walkout will be the first of its kind in the union’s 106-year history and could take place over the coming weeks and possibly over Christmas.