Employee Relations – Fire Brigade Strikes of 2002
The fireman’s wage strikes occurred in the latter part of 2002. A series of forty eight hour and eight day strikes were implemented. The objective of these strikes was to cause disruption to the normal fire cover provided by the fire department thereby making the general public aware of their pay demands. By highlighting their monopoly on fire control and trading on their high standing in the community the union hoped to influence the government’s decision to offer the firemen a 40% wage increase. The union representing the firemen were asking for such a substantial increase because they felt
that a fire fighters pay had not increased in parity with other essential services pay over the past 25 years. The initial proposal regarding the amount of the service pay of a fireman was submitted back in July 2001. By September 2002 the country was on the verge of facing its first firemen’s strike in 25 years, Tony Blair was repeatedly saying that the 40% wage increase was an unrealistic offer. However, Andy Gilcherist the leader of the firemen’s union was refusing to consider lowering the percentage increase in wages that was being demanded.
Consequently this meant that negotiations were at a stalemate and thereby leaving only one course of action. The first strike was scheduled to commence on the 29th October 2002. However, this strike was postponed, but not cancelled, due to 11th hour talks between the union and the government. The first strike actually commenced on the 13th November 2002. It was a 48 hour strike, which caused many disruptions to the United Kingdom, as well as a small loss of life. Even after this strike, neither the government or the union were able to find a solution to the situation.
The government were only willing to offer a 16% increase in wages for the firemen taking salaries to i?? 25,000 per annum and i?? 29,000 per annum in London. When this offer was rejected by the union the commencement of an eight day strike took place at 9am on the 22nd November 2002. However, this disagreement goes back even further than 2001. To understand the stalemate it is necessary to examine the unique history of the fire service. The public sector, ever changing since 1979, have been described as inefficient and insufficiently responsive to the changing needs of society.
They were not market responsive and employees were far too protected and complacent, due to a weak management infrastructure. The government decided to initiate a programme that would aim to streamline the fire service by reducing the workforce and thereby easing the burden on public expenditure. This proposed reshuffle became an integral part of the government’s strategy on salary structure, which explains why firemen’s salaries have not grown with the rate of inflation. The roots of this dispute are firmly planted in an earlier decade and an earlier government.
Then the size and success of a strike would be enhanced by the large membership of the trade union. The reason why firemen were advised to join the union was that it was deemed to be in their best interest. Likewise terms and conditions were set for the fireman during 1979, these being determined through collective bargaining at a national level. In recent years the number of public sector workers has been decreasing, this is mainly due to privatisation and a radical programme of denationalisation. This has not had a direct affect on the fireman as yet. However it is predicted
that in the near future the fire service will suffer the same fate as other public services. This will affect the job security of firemen and as many as 10,000 could be made redundant. The main reason for the reduction in manpower is the increased borrowing by public sector industries, as the government cannot run organisations at a profit loss. If modernisation does occur and 10,000 firemen lose their jobs, it would allow the government to offer a more realistic wage increase. Strike is always the last form of action taken in a given situation. However, a strike is always provocative and well
publicised. This can make unsuspecting members of the general public believe that this is the only action that can be taken. However, the firemen would have had dealings with their superiors, trade union representatives and government representatives before a strike was even considered. A fireman’s pay is determined by his position and experience. This salary structure is accepted nationally, which means a fireman with the same role and experience will earn the same pay regardless of where he lives. Negotiations between the FBU and National Employers started on the 28th May 2002.
A series of six meetings were conducted nationally, however no compromise could be reached, forcing both parties to accept a stalemate after the 6th meeting on September 2nd 2002. A ballot was then taken by members of the fire brigade service and 87% unanimously agreed strike action. The first of these strikes was scheduled for the 29th October 2002, however, new negotiations started which had the potential to advert the strikes, so the fire brigade union postponed the industrial action to a later date in November. When these new negotiations failed the
first strike action by firemen for 25 years took place on November 13th 2002. There are alternative measures that the government and the firemen could have used to deal with a stalemate situation, without resorting to strike action. At local level the firemen could have adopted a ban on overtime thereby causing maximum inconvenience to their superiors. Although this might not sound an effective way to achieve their objectives, it does force senior chiefs to reassess best working practices and must have an impact on working conditions and the possibility that there might be insufficient cover for a
particular shift. Work to rule is another course of action that the fireman would have been able to implement. This would indeed hinder the senior management, forcing a reassessment of the best way forward. This course of action works by the employees not being flexible and working strictly according to the rule book. Another option open to the firemen would be the use of the ACAS system (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. ). This is a service that has been established by the government, to act as a third party in employment relationships. This system has the ability not only to
advise and research services but it can also resolve potential conflict before it happens. ACAS states that it can suggest better solutions to help prevent disputes, tackle underlying problems, develop better solutions, encourage the acceptance of change and result in more constructive working relationships. ACAS has three main functions, advice, conciliation and arbitration. This system even offers advice over the phone resolving issues faced by employees and employers by a cooperative and joint problem solving approach. The second role ACAS can play in a situation is conciliation. This is
where both parties involved in the dispute can ask a third party to intervene and help them come to an agreement to resolve the situation. The final role ACAS can play is an arbitrational one. This is where the parties involved, ask a third party to act as a judge to decide the outcome of an issue or dispute which can not be resolved by the people involved. The main problem with this approach is that whatever is decided by ACAS is to be accepted by all parties concerned. In conclusion I do believe that the firemen’s salary is rather poor considering the type of work they have to carry out.
However these men and women had knowledge of the pay structure before they agreed to take the job. I do not believe that essential services should strike as it can put lives and property at risk. This was quite evident in the fire brigades strike in November which helped contribute to the death of a number of people through fire related incidents. Resulting from my research I believe that the firemen’s pay should be in line with the rate of inflation but better savings on communications could be and should be achieved. In the Wiltshire area an example of the fire brigade’s intransigence can be seen.
Local Government want all three emergency service’s communications to be conducted under one roof. At present only Ambulance and Police forces are using this facility. Firemen are resisting change and are still insisting on having their own premises for communications. I do think that the firemen should have an appropriate weighting allowance for employees who work in London and the M4 corridor (Reading area). I do believe that a firemen’s salary in these areas are not sufficient for affordable housing. This would bring them in line with other public sector workers (Teachers) in the area.
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