Shropshire Star

Strike-breaking firefighters will provide only cover in Shropshire if action goes ahead

Shropshire will be reliant on a "small number" of firefighters who choose not to strike if industrial action goes ahead, the Fire Brigades Union has said.

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Firefighters announced on Monday that they are the latest body planning to walk out over pay and could be set to strike as early as this month after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.

More than 80 per cent of FBU members who voted had backed strike action across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when they were balloted last month.

The FBU has said it will not announce any strike dates until after it had met with the various brigades in English local authority areas, the regional fire services in Wales and the national organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland on February 8.

The union has said it hoped to receive a revised pay offer before that date, which could avert the walkouts.

Billy Holland, regional secretary for the West Midlands FBU, said: "It's important to say that we haven't yet called dates for strike action and we still hope that strikes can be avoided. We have given a period of 10 days for an improved pay offer to be made and until that time passes we won't call any strikes.

"However, our members across Shropshire and the rest of the UK have now made their voices loud and clear as 88 per cent have voted for strike action, the first time for 20 years that a dispute around pay has taken place within the fire service."

He continued: "If strikes take place then they will be supported in large numbers both at fire stations and in fire control rooms. We expect fire services to depend on the small number who choose not to strike to provide cover during any periods of action.

"There will however be an agreement that allows firefighters and firefighter control staff to respond to major incidents during strike action if they wish to do so."

If the strike goes ahead, it will be the first nationwide walkout over pay by the fire service in more than 20 years.

During the last industrial action in 2002, the army was drafted in as was a fleet of ageing 'green goddesses' - military fire engines that have since been taken out of service.

There were nine fire-related deaths during that course of industrial action. Among the fatalities was a 76-year-old woman who died in Welshpool Hospital following a blaze at her home in Falcon Court, Maesyrhandir.

The woman died despite firefighters leaving their picket line at the main station in Newtown to attend the fire tenders after seeing the green goddess drive past.

The Government said the threat of future strike action was "disappointing and concerning for the public".

But the union says that since 2010, its members have experienced a 12 per cent drop in real terms earnings.

The FBU rejected a previous five per cent pay offer in November, arguing it would equal a real-terms pay cut given current high rate of inflation.

"We will do all we can to avoid strike action but we are left with no alternative if we're not being listened to," said Billy Holland.

"Firefighters have seen their living standards driven down over the course of this Government and in real terms have lost £4,000 a year due to successive cuts. We don't believe that people risking their lives every day should be struggling to pay their bills.

"We're asking the Government to level up our pay, to recognise the contribution we make to society and to allow us a decent standard of living.

"Recent research proves that firefighters are significantly more likely to die of cancer than the general public and massively more likely to die of a heart attack. For the risks we take we don't ask for the world, we just ask to be treated and paid fairly.

"Cuts to our real terms pay have happened alongside huge cuts to fire service budgets which have led to one in five firefighter jobs being lost since 2010 and many fire stations closing."