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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
PM rejects fire crews' pay claim
Firefighters' rally in London
Full-time firefighters are in a belligerent mood
Tony Blair has rejected demands from UK firefighters for a 40% pay rise, saying it would do "terrible damage" to the economy.

The prime minister, speaking at a press conference in his Sedgefield constituency, said the government had instead offered a review of pay.

The main fire brigade union, however, has rejected outright any independent review.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), is recommending strike action and is demanding a pay rise of almost 40%, taking firefighters' pay to 30,000.

I can't see it's justified to take industrial action

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair said: "It would be lovely to pay people as much as they wanted.

"What we have done is to say 'why don't we have an independent inquiry to see if things are working properly'.

"If we offer that, I can't see it is justified to take industrial action."

Mr Blair said everyone was proud of the work firefighters did but stressed: "I don't think there's anybody really who could believe that we could give a 40% pay claim without terrible damage to the rest of the economy."

He added: "The first thing that would happen is the Bank of England would start putting people's mortgages up."

Strike ballot

Talks between employer's and the FBU broke down on Monday.

Andy Gilchrist, FBU General Secretary, said: "Our members are clear that they deserve the going rate for the job they do today, which is 30,000 and we are therefore not going to get caught up in a so-called independent governmental review in the fire service."

It's a move from the grass roots, from the rank and file

Graham Noakes
Essex Fire Brigade

A spokeswoman for the employers said they welcomed the government's intervention.

Fire service minister Nick Raynsford had said he believed there were still options available to prevent strikes.

He added: "There is no time to lose if we are to avoid an unproductive and damaging conflict."

But the FBU is still planning to recall its national conference later this month to vote on industrial action.

Firefighters' frustration

The employers' leaders accused the FBU of a "headlong rush" to a strike ballot and warned that lives and property would be at risk from industrial action.

A smaller union representing 4,000 part-time firefighters says its members will not strike.

Firefighter pay
Pre-qualifying: 16,941 to 19,776
Fully qualified: 21,531 rising to 22,491 after 15 years
Leading firefighter: 23,055 rising to 24,006
Sub-officer: 23,643 rising to 25,503
Station officer: 27,426 rising to 29,577
Source: FBU

General secretary of the Retained Firefighters Union (RFU), Derek Chadbon, said his union was not against full-time officers being paid more but "ordinary, hard-working firefighters" did not want to strike.

There has been a string of unofficial strikes at fire stations around the country in support of the pay increase.

Full-time firefighters in Essex joined the unofficial work-to-rule which they said could go on "indefinitely".

Graham Noakes from Essex Fire Service said: "It's a move from the grass roots, from the rank and file - it's the frustration taken out on the management and employers that the talks have broken down."

The unofficial actions started in Scotland on Monday and has spread south.

According to FBU sources, the action had spread to areas including the South West, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northants, Norfolk, Suffolk and Bedfordshire.

Green Goddess fire engines at storage depot
On standby: Green Goddess fire engines could be brought in
Several thousand firefighters took to the streets on London on Monday to give their noisy backing to their union.

Their leaders warned that industrial action would close the Channel Tunnel and disrupt transport services including the London Underground because of support from other workers.

The union will recall its national conference on 12 September.

Meanwhile around 900 Army Green Goddesses were on stand-by and will be used as cover if a strike goes ahead.

They were last seen nationwide during the first and only all-out firefighters strike in 1977.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Firefighters are furious at the government's refusal to pay more"

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