Pay: the silence is deafeningélanie

THE USUAL ANNUAL pay settlement date for the fire and rescue service – 1 July – is a little over three months away. That is the date on which firefighters and Control staff are entitled to receive any salary increase agreed between employers and the Fire Brigades Union through the National Joint Council (NJC).

Yet, as the settlement date draws ever nearer, there is a deafening silence coming from the union’s leadership. This has led some members to wonder whether they will actually receive any increase on 1 July or – as has happened all too often in previous years – the increase will be delayed.

In March 2023, a two-year pay deal was reached by the employers and union (providing for a 7% increase backdated to 1 July 2022 and a further 5% for the year from 1 July 2023).

As part of that deal, both sides agreed that joint working parties would be established to discuss several related aspects of the union’s pay claim, including future pay progression and structure, retained duty system pay, Control job evaluation, and continuous professional development (CPD).

FBU members were informed that these working groups would conclude their work by November 2023. The conclusions of the groups would then inform future negotiations on pay.

However, if the working groups did meet and carry out any work during that time, members would not have known about it, because virtually no update was provided to them.

Eventually, on 7 December 2023, the union’s leadership issued a circular informing members that the working groups had not yet completed their work but that it had written to the employers requesting that talks on a pay settlement for 2024 commence ‘as quickly as possible’.

Then, in the most recent edition of the union’s Firefighter magazine, members were informed (in a very short ‘filler’ article) that the working groups would report to a meeting of the NJC in February and that they would be kept informed of developments. In the same edition, the general secretary, in his regular column, oddly suggested that it was still ‘early days’ in the talks on pay.

Now here we are, near the end of March, and there is still radio silence. No update on the work or conclusions of the working groups, no report on what happened at the NJC meeting in February, no debate within the union about the shape of any pay claim, and no sign of any campaign to ensure members receive a decent pay increase by the fast-approaching settlement date of 1 July.

What exactly is going on?

The union’s annual conference – its parliament – is scheduled to take place in May. Will the executive council submit a pay proposal to be debated by delegates? Will that proposal be underpinned by robust evidence and argument, including any conclusions from the working groups? Will members be permitted to debate such a proposal before it is put to conference? Can members expect to receive the annual pay award by 1 July? All of these questions remain unanswered.

The cost-of-living crisis hasn’t gone away. The effect of falling real wages over so many years means that pay is the most pressing issue for FBU members. The union’s leadership needs to start showing that it understands that. The ongoing silence is not acceptable.

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