Firefighters and Control Room staff in the UK have overwhelmingly accepted a new pay deal, putting an end to their long-running dispute over pay. The Fire Brigades Union confirmed that 96% of its members voted in favour of the pay offer, on an 84% turnout.
This result marks the Fire and Rescue Service as one of the only areas in the public sector to have resolved its pay dispute without resorting to strike action. The key to this success was collective bargaining, which allowed pay to be decided in direct negotiations, unlike in the NHS or teaching sectors where pay is determined by an “independent” pay review body.
The pay settlement covers a 7% pay rise, backdated to July 2022, along with an additional 5% increase from July 2023. The overwhelming mandate for strike action was a crucial factor in moving Fire Service employers to make the revised offer.
In response to the news, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack said, “The overwhelming vote by FBU members to accept the improved offer means that the dispute is resolved on terms that are favourable to firefighters. We pay tribute to members of our union for their determination and unity throughout the past year. Firefighters will now receive two pay increases, including nine months of back pay.
“This result is testament to the power of collective action. Without the huge mandate for strike action by firefighters last month, this deal would never have been achieved. We moved our employers from 2% in June last year, to 5% in November, and now to 7% plus 5% with an agreement to immediate talks on other areas where we have concerns over pay.”
Wrack continued to emphasise that the direct negotiations with Fire and Rescue Service employers were the crucial mechanism for achieving this outcome, allowing them to make their case and avoid industrial action. This would not have been possible with an independent Pay Review Body, where strike action would have been inevitable. He added that the organised power of trade unions, including being prepared to take strike action when necessary, can protect the pay and conditions of workers.
Wrack also made clear that, although the pay offer had been accepted, it was not without its issues. He said, “It’s clear from this dispute that the organised power of trade unions, including being prepared to take strike action when necessary, can protect the pay and conditions of workers. For the current year, 7% is still another real terms pay cut. For the following year, when inflation is forecast to be lower, 5% may amount to a slight increase in real terms pay.”
Wrack went on to say that at a time when the UK government is presiding over attacks on the wages of key workers in the NHS, teaching, rail, and postal services, strikes are the first line of defence against those attacks on workers. He pledged the FBU’s solidarity with each and every union on strike for decent pay and said that they would now step up their resistance against the law that the Tories have rushed through parliament to restrict the rights of working people to take strike action in defence of wages and jobs.