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EDITIONS
Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
Union attacks Blair's fire pay role
Firefighters' uniforms
The strikes are due to start on 29 October
The government's handling of the firefighters dispute has been criticised by the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Bill Speirs has accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of "hugely devaluing" an independent review of fire service pay and conditions.

He has also called on the government to open up talks with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to prevent a strike.

Mr Speirs claimed there were people around Mr Blair who were taking the kind of approach Margaret Thatcher had to the miners.

Bill Speirs
Bill Speirs: "Potential disaster"

Firefighters across the UK are set to carry out a series of stoppages.

The first two-day action will begin on 29 October, followed by five further strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

The FBU is seeking a 40% wage increase which would change the basic pay level for qualified firefighters from 21,500 to 30,000.

The government said that was impossible and attacked the FBU's refusal to take part in an independent pay and conditions review, which would be coupled with a 4% interim pay rise.

Mr Speirs, a former chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, has accused the government of taking a rigid line over the dispute.

He said: "To refuse to engage in negotiations, I genuinely can't understand why that is the case.

Fire facts
Scotland has 4,588 full-time firefighters
2,799 part-time firefighters
1,200 volunteer firefighters
520 fire engines
30 aerial appliances
14 rescue and emergency vehicles
59 other specialist vehicles
109 Green Godesses will be used in Scotland

"If the government were to engage in negotiations just now with the firefighters' union, the worst that could happen is that nothing changes."

He claimed there were people around the prime minister who were taking the kind of approach that Margaret Thatcher had adopted with the miners in the 1980s.

"I genuinely don't believe that this is the view of the majority of the cabinet and I think they have taken their eye off the ball.

"They don't realise the potential disaster here, for the country and for the Labour movement."

And he argued that the government was mistaken if it thought that it would gain an advantage by taking on the firefighters and winning.

Entirely reasonable

Mr Speirs claimed that Mr Blair had devalued Sir George Bain's independent review of the fire service by saying there was no way firefighters could be paid 30,000 a year.

"What happens if the independent review says that they should be?" he said.

Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell rejected criticism of the government's handling of the dispute.

She said: "We value firefighters. The difference between us and Mrs Thatcher and the miners is she did not value the miners and the action that was taken at that time destroyed the coal mining industry in this country."

Mrs Liddell insisted the Government had been "entirely reasonable" in its attempts to meet the firefighters' demands.

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Forbes McFall reports
"The government has dismissed the firefighters' pay demand."
Kirsten Campbell reports
"A Labour government is being accused of using Thatcherite" tactics with the fireman."

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 VOTE RESULTS
Do you back the firefighters' strike?

Yes
 4.07% 

No
 95.93% 

64332 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

23 Oct 02 | Politics
22 Oct 02 | Scotland
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