BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 23:54 GMT
Prescott threatens fire service takeover
Firefighters on strike
Firefighters are demanding better pay
The government is preparing to take new legal powers to effectively take control of the fire service and impose a pay settlement on firefighters, John Prescott has announced.

The deputy prime minister told the Commons he had concluded the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was not serious about reaching a negotiated settlement to its dispute.

Legislation in itself will not end the dispute - but it is prudent to take these powers to use if necessary to help reach an agreement

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

The union called the announcement, which came hours after their latest 48-hour strike began, a "desperate" example of government "bullying".

Other trade union leaders have warned the move was the equivalent of declaring war on public sector workers.

Tuesday's walk-out by firefighters will be followed by a further 48-hour strike on Saturday.

Members of the armed forces are providing emergency cover.

The FBU executive announced on Monday that industrial action would continue after two days of talks with employers at the conciliation service Acas last week.

Pay and conditions are currently negotiated with local government employers.

Andy Gilchrist
Gilchrist: It is bullying tactics and they do not impress us
Mr Prescott is preparing to reactivate the Fire Services Act of 1947, repealed in 1959, which will allow the government to specify pay, terms and conditions.

The new legislation would enable the government to intervene - but it will not provide powers to prevent strikes in the fire service.

Mr Prescott told MPs: "Legislation in itself will not end the dispute - but it is prudent to take these powers to use if necessary to help reach an agreement."

But he added it would take a few weeks to reactivate the act.

Mr Prescott said: "This latest round of strikes confirms that the FBU is playing cat and mouse with the employers, the government, public safety and public money."

And he accused the union of giving "false and misleading" information about the threat of job losses and station closures.

Taxpayer cost

The union was completely opposed to modernisation, Mr Prescott said.

He said the dispute had cost the taxpayer more than 70m that would have to be taken from regeneration budgets designed to help the most vulnerable in society.

It would continue to cost 1m every day - whether or not the firefighters were actually on strike, Mr Prescott told MPs.

A Green Goddess
Edward Davey, who shadows Mr Prescott's office for the Liberal Democrats, said the announcement had been a "big mistake" and asked if teachers and health workers would also face imposed pay settlements.

The Conservatives want a ban on firefighter strikes and David Davis, the shadow deputy prime minister, told BBC News Mr Prescott was "talking tough but not acting tough".

The local authority employers said in a statement that they hoped the announcement would "concentrate minds at the FBU executive, who must either re-think their current entrenched position on accepting change for the better or resign themselves to becoming an irrelevance in the future of the service".

Union anger

FBU General Secretary Andy Gilchrist condemned the announcement as a "desperate act by desperate people".

"Imposing a settlement by legislation simply highlights their unwillingness to negotiate," Mr Gilchrist added.

Unless Labour MPs stop this madness there will be civil war in the Labour movement

Paul Kenny
GMB candidate
"It is bullying tactics and they do not impress us."

Paul Kenny, a candidate in the election for General Secretary of the GMB union, said: "It beggars belief that a government that for almost six years did nothing to curb the excesses of fat cat pay should seek to impose a deal on a group of workers whose pay over the last 12 years has fallen from 104% of average earnings to 83%.

General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, Bill Morris, said: "The firefighters' dispute will not be settled in the court room or in jail, but must be settled in the board room."

Labour MP John McDonnell, chairman of a group of Labour MPs set up to support the firefighters, said the government was now preparing to ban the FBU from taking industrial action in advance of war against Iraq.

"This development has the gravest possible implications for the whole Labour and trade union movement and is a fundamental threat to basic trade union rights," he added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This is meant to be a wake-up call"
John McGhee, FBU
"It's something that's going to make the situation a lot worse"
 VOTE RESULTS
Do you support the fire strike?

Yes
 44.83% 

No
 55.17% 

6558 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Key stories

Features and analysis

How they compare

In pictures

CLICKABLE GUIDE

AUDIO VIDEO
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes