Anger over lack of Government cash for Tyne and Wear firefighters pay rise as industrial action looms
At a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority earlier this week, councillors were given an update on ongoing annual national pay negotiations for ‘grey book’ staff.
This includes operational staff from firefighters to area manager and control room roles, with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) currently involved in discussions over a pay rise.
In June, 2022, the employers side of the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services (NJC) made an offer of 2% on all pay rates and allowances – however this was formally rejected by the FBU.
The employer’s side of the NJC then wrote to the Home Office asking it to consider extra funding to support an improved pay offer and avert any industrial action.
But a response in September confirmed the Government would not provide additional funding as fire and rescue service pay is negotiated through the NJC, rather than the Home Office.
In October, the NJC met and a revised offer was made to the FBU of a 5% pay increase, including continual professional development payments for all roles.
However the FBU made a public statement advising they would be consulting all members on the revised offer and recommending that it be rejected.
A campaign statement on the FBU website reads: “Bills are rising dramatically. Firefighters are increasingly struggling to pay their mortgage or rent, and many are facing choosing between putting food on the table or switching on the heating.
“Firefighters and firefighters control were called ‘key-workers’ during the pandemic – but now they face another significant cut to their real wages. Inflation is currently at around 10%.
“Having considered the offer, the Executive Council recommends that it is rejected. This is ultimately a decision for members to make.
“Whilst the union’s leadership’s view is clear – that we must stand up against what would be yet another real terms pay cut – members must have their say.”
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) have stressed they have a healthy working relationship with local union representatives and that it is not a ‘local fight’ as bargaining is done at a national level.
However plans are still being developed to prepare for any potential industrial action, which would be subject to a successful ballot.
This includes training “resilience staff” to support experienced firefighting staff on duty and resilience arrangements for control room services, as well as sending out practical advice and reassurance to the public and businesses.
At the meeting of the Fire Authority on Monday, October 10, councillors hit out at Central Government’s lack of financial support in the national dispute.
Councillor Phil Tye, chair of the Fire Authority, said it was “disgusting” the way fire and rescue service employees and the FBU had been treated by the Government.
The Sunderland councillor also claimed the Government was “hiding behind the mechanisms of how pay is negotiated”.
Cllr Tye added: “For suggesting one week that they weren’t prepared to make additional monies available to fire services to help us try to avert strike action and then the following week, suggest tax cuts for those that earn significant amounts of money is just disgusting.
“I think it shows exactly what this Government thinks of our public services and public sector”.
Councillor Wilf Flynn, Labour South Tyneside representative, said the Government had financed pay rises for police officers and had a “responsibility” to do the same for fire and rescue service staff.
Councillor Tom Woodwark, Liberal Democrat Newcastle representative , said the Government “clearly wishes to have industrial disputes because it thinks it plays to its base”.
Cllr Woodwark continued: “That’s certainly the case with the rail strikes and frankly there is no evidence that it is anything but that in these negotiations.
“To hide behind the fig leaf of national negotiations therefore it’s not through the Home Office, come on, nobody believes that.”
Councillor James Doyle, Sunderland Conservative representative, added: “The Government is pursuing this line of negotiation with regard to firefighters pay yet at the same time, cutting taxes for the rich.
“I think personally that at the moment the Government’s priorities are skewed.”
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), also said the Government’s stance was “shocking” and “completely contemptuous to public sector workers”.
The PCC added: “We should have never been in this situation in the first place and I think it is an utter disgrace that we are.
“Really what we should be doing at a time like this is making sure our public sector workers, who are often at times the services of last resort for an overstretched public who are also feeling this poverty crisis, we should be making sure that they’re looked after and have everything they need.”
In a statement released earlier in October, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) welcomed the increased pay offer for fire and rescue services and staff.
The statement added the NFCC “supports the fire service employers ask of Government for financial assistance to ensure more sustainable future funding of fire and rescue services”.
This includes taking into account “other inflationary pressures, alongside pay, that are impacting on the services provided to local communities”.
At the time of writing, Fire Brigades Union members are expected to be consulted on whether to accept or reject the 5% pay rise offer.
An update on the situation is expected to return to a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority in future.