National Update

FRSA National Update

September 09, 2022

FRSA and Strike Action

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the middle of industrial unrest again within the Fire Service with FBU members potentially commencing strike action in the autumn.

Primarily this dispute is about pay and the recent offer from the national employers of a 2% increase.

We completely agree that the offer is not acceptable. Only a few weeks ago the Police received an average increase of 5% with the lowest earners receiving 8.8%.

Part of the problem with the pay offer is that pay currently is at a low base, this situation has been created by the failure of the National Joint Council (NJC), a body that has been responsible for the national pay rates for decades and has failed to maintain a salary level that remains competitive in the employment market.

For many years the FRSA has argued for the reform of the national pay bargaining structure and regrettably, we are being proved right.

On the question of strike action, the FRSA (formally the Retained Firefighters’ Union) was conceived in 1976 just prior to the first national strike. Retained firefighters wanted the protection of a recognised trade union but didn’t want to take strike action against their local communities and put lives at risk, consequently the Retained Firefighters’ Union was formed. 46 years later that view has not changed.

We have enormous sympathy with the situation that all firefighters find themselves in across the UK, but there is an alternative to undertaking strike action, using the power of argument and having dialogue with local and national governments. There needs to be more effective dialogue between all parties, including those represented, or fully represented, on the NJC.

Historically, strike action within the fire and rescue service has achieved little more than create division between those that have chosen to strike and those that have not. In fact, back in 2015 when strike action took place due to the implementation of the then new 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme, the result was an inferior scheme in terms of the accrual rate (increase in pension value) in England and the devolved administrations.

It has been stated that a competent firefighter needs an increase of more than £4,000 to restore real wages lost over more than a decade of austerity (using CPI as the measure of inflation). However, in Scotland an offer was rejected that would have increased the salary of a competent firefighter by £3,490 (10.8%), citing a refusal to accept undertaking duties such as Co-Responding and responding to incidents involving slip, trips, and falls.

Our view is that pay and conditions need to be reformed in parallel with a broadening of the firefighter role. If this had happened when the FRSA raised the issue on many occasions with local and national governments, the pay of a competent firefighter would be at the level now more equipped to cope with the current cost of living crisis and industrial action would have been averted.  This could have been achieved without putting the public at risk and is why the FRSA take the approach to industrial relations which is evidence-led rather than politically led.

Immediate Action

First steps would be for the government to provide the necessary funding to the national employers to provide a pay increase more aligned with that offered to the Police, providing a sliding scale of pay increase with the greatest support aimed at the lower earnings within the fire and rescue service.

Secondly, work needs to commence immediately to formulate a business case to reform the national pay structure that incorporates the broadening of the firefighter role, as was presented in Scotland in 2019.

This much needed reform will better reflect the public needs in the 21st century. If this were to happen, industrial action would be averted, firefighters would be more appropriately rewarded, and the public would be better served.

The FRSA Executive Board will meet regularly to review the situation as it develops and consider our next steps accordingly.

Members will be updated on any developments and are asked to monitor our website and e-bulletins for the latest information. Local officials will be provided with additional advice and support separately via our briefing notes via FRSA HQ.

Tristan Ashby
Chief Executive Officer

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