On Wednesday the Chancellor outlined his Spending Review for the coming year which included the announcement that there would be a freeze on public sector pay, minus a few exclusions (doctors, nurses and those on low pay).
There is no doubt that members will be disappointed with this news, having been at the sharp end of the previous programme of austerity within the public sector. A significant proportion of our members stepped up to the plate during the height of the pandemic to provide the necessary assistance to the NHS and will continue to do so as long as they are needed. This role is not undertaken for financial gain but out of a sense of public service which is a testament to their character, attitude and professionalism.
The Association takes a pragmatic view, in that we currently live in unprecedented times where the short-term future remains uncertain for everybody within both the private and public sector. We also acknowledge that businesses of all sizes have taken a significant impact over the last eight months, resulting in the closure of companies and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs across all sectors.
That said, we are disappointed that the government has neglected to fully appreciate the activities undertaken by our members during the pandemic (voluntarily) by including firefighters within the pay freeze.
Past increases have barely covered inflation rises and a pay freeze now will see our members incur a pay cut in real terms (as confirmed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies). This is not acceptable and will further damage the sustainability of an already fragile workforce. We will be writing to the government making our view clear that this pay freeze must be short lived, and that our members receive fair renumeration going forward. Firefighters are here to save lives, not the economy.
National Negotiating Machinery
It has also not gone unnoticed that the current circumstance has further demonstrated how ineffective the National Joint Council (NJC) is and has been for a number of years regarding firefighter pay. Past opportunities, as recently as 2017, to modernise the firefighter role and with it provide an improved pay structure have been missed. The lost opportunity in Scotland was even greater with the service offering a pay increase of around 17% by July 2022 that was rejected by the FBU.
Firefighters across the UK provide a first-class public service and need to be rewarded accordingly. The national pay bargaining mechanism must be reformed to safeguard the recruitment and retention of fire service staff across all departments and duty systems. This latest situation highlights the need for structural reform even more than ever and we will continue to campaign for change to the benefit of our members and sustainability of the UK Fire Service.
Our offer to you
A new information leaflet is available encapsulating the key benefits of being a member of the FRSA. The document is available via our website and we would recommend that this is shared with your colleagues on station.