Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/273/24532
Pay The Firefighters
"THERE ARE firefighters sleeping on fire station floors and commuting very long distances literally across the country as they cannot afford to live on their wages," says Dean Mills, regional secretary Southern Region FBU and operational firefighter for 19 years
"The 4% pay rise we've been offered is worth 25p/hour for whole time firefighters after stoppages. For retained firefighters it's worth 0.6% on their retaining fee, after stoppages.
"What we're asking for is £30,000 a year, which is £8.50 an hour. That's not much when you consider we don't get shift allowances, unsociable hours or weekend working payments. We're on £21,500 for a 42-hour week.
"We pay 23% tax, 10% National Insurance and 11% for our pension. The government say people should be prudent and prepare for the future. We're being prudent by paying 11% of our wages for our pension, but we're being punished for that because our take-home pay is low.
"At the moment the country is divided into four areas according to the risk to property and the fire service is funded according to those categories. If you're in London, you're in Zone A and you should get two fire engines to a fire in five minutes and one in eight minutes. If you're in an area assessed to be low risk you get one fire engine in 20 minutes.
"We've said we should be funded according to the risk to life not property but the government have said that will cost too much.
"So it's no good them criticising us for striking and putting lives at risk. It's them who won't fund the service on the basis of life risk.
"As far as trying to use troops to provide fire cover in a strike, we don't want soldiers to be sent to Iraq to get killed. But we also don't want soldiers to be killed because they haven't been sufficiently trained to do our job.
"It takes four years to qualify as a firefighter so how do they expect soldiers to take over after a few weeks training?
"The army aren't going to give me a tank and say: 'Use this mate, you've had a bit of training'. And I don't expect the RAF to give me a Harrier jump jet either.
"We as firefighters have to develop new skills and adapt old ones. As our knowledge and ability grows, why does our pay fall in real terms?
"We are not asking for a rise of 200-300% as we have seen among councillors in the last few years. We are not asking for the eight-fold increase in pay MPs have seen since 1977.
"We don't want annual bonuses, big enough to buy us a house, like stockbrokers. But we do want a fair rate of pay for the job. Is that really too much to ask?"
In The Socialist 18 October 2002: