FIREFIGHTERS HAVE settled their long-running dispute after the
employers finally agreed to stump up back pay and accept that bank
holidays were not normal working days.
For over three months – since the firefighters held the first part of
their annual conference in May this year – the employers have been
refusing to honour and implement the pay deal which was agreed to end the
firefighters’ strike of 2002-2003.
The bosses had used the flimsiest of pretexts to withhold the various
stages of the pay award and also kept attempting to introduce new
requirements that firefighters had to comply with, which were not part of
the initial deal.
This forced the firefighters’ union the FBU to withdraw from the
agreement and begin a ballot for strike action. This threat, along with
the hardening mood of firefighters, eventually forced the employers to
implement the deal without added strings.
At an earlier stage it was clear the Labour-led employers, at the
instigation of the government who were keeping them on a tight leash, were
preparing to face down the firefighters and attempt to smash their union.
However, the escalating anger of the firefighters was beginning to
percolate through to a government which was also panicking about the
limitations of its contingency plans to deal with the dispute.
Now the firefighters have been paid the award in full and will be paid
over £500 in back pay.
Although firefighters will carry out ‘normal’ duties on bank holidays,
fire authorities have been forced to recognise it is not a normal working
day and will have to pay double time and a day off in lieu.
There is little doubt that the employers have climbed down from their
hardline stance of a few weeks ago. The form of words agreed to settle the
dispute is exactly the same as that on offer three weeks ago when Labour
councillors tried to wreck the deal.
Clearly, the government was not as prepared as it thought it was to
deal with another firefighters’ strike and the real threat of action by
the union’s members was instrumental in forcing the climbdown.
The FBU also had forced other unions to put pressure on the Labour
government, which has become increasingly jittery about its relations with
the unions in the run-up to the general election.
Firefighters have told the socialist that this has boosted confidence
in the stations but they are aware that this is likely to be only a
temporary climbdown by the government.
If Labour wins a third term, many firefighters are conscious that it
will come back for more in its so-called modernisation plans and could
line up the firefighters with the civil servants and other public-sector
unions in its slash-and-burn plans for change in the public sector.