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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Ministers push ahead with firefighters review
Firefighters
Firefighters are looking for a substantial pay rise
Fire Service Minister Nick Raynsford plans to push ahead with an independent review of firefighters' pay despite opposition from the main union.

The review has been suggested in an attempt to avert strike action.

A spokeswoman for the local authority employers has welcomed the government's intervention.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said an independent review of the fire service was "totally unnecessary".

FBU General Secretary Andy Gilchrist said they had spent the past 25 years helping to modernise the fire service.

"We do not need a so-called independent review to tell us that professional firefighters work 42 hours a week risking their lives to save the public and then have to claim state benefits to make ends meet," he said.

The FBU is recommending strike action for the first time in 25 years.

It is demanding a pay rise of almost 40%, taking firefighters' pay to 30,000.

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

The union has rejected a 4% pay offer.

Talks with employers broke down on Monday, as several thousand protesting firefighters took to the streets of London.

The FBU has recalled its national conference on 12 September to ballot its 55,000 members across the UK.

But on Thursday fire service minister Nick Raynsford said the FBU and employers would be invited to give evidence to a review as "an alternative to unnecessary and deeply damaging industrial action".

It would "be an excellent opportunity to consider the difficult and complex issues facing the fire service, including pay", he added.

Mr Raynsford said he was delighted former Low Pay Commission chairman Sir George Bain had agreed to conduct the review.

"There is no time to lose," he said.

Fire engine
A pay deal was last agreed 25 years ago

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".

Essex firefigher Graham Noakes 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.

The employers' leaders warn national action will put lives and property at risk.

It will close the Channel Tunnel and disrupt transport services including the London Underground because of support from other workers, they said.

Green Goddess fire engines at storage depot
On standby: Green Goddess fire engines could be brought in

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

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.

During the only previous national fire strike, 10,000 servicemen from the Army, navy and air force provided emergency cover using Army fire engines, nicknamed green goddesses.

Around 900 are on stand-by.

Tony Blair has said a 40% pay rise would do "terrible damage" to the economy.

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

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."


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