Andy Dark answers frequently asked questions about the pay consultation.
Q: If the offer is accepted what does it commit firefighters to doing?
The employers’ offer is candid in that they acknowledge that, in the absence of certainty that they will be able to afford the second stage 2017 payment of 3%, members will only be committed to continuing the current trials until such time as the financial position is known. This could be earlier than, but no later than, April 2018.
Q: Does the offer commit us to doing the EMR and other work for just 2%?
No. Categorically not. If (i) the second stage payment of 3% and also (ii) that arrangements in respect of pay for 2018, 2019 and 2020 (subject to agreement by FBU members) are not delivered by the employers then the trials will end.
Q: Does the offer not lock us in to doing EMR and/or work contractually?
It will not lock us into doing EMR work unless and until (i) the second stage payment of 3% and also (ii) that arrangements in respect of pay for 2018, 2019 and 2020 (subject to agreement by FBU members) are delivered by the employers. In addition, we will not enter into any collective agreement (which would lock us in) until and unless (iii) we were content with the training; health and safety provisions and (iv) that the scope of the work is defined.
Q: If we don't accept will we definitely get 1%?
There is no guarantee of this. However the employers have given strong indications that this will be the case. The employers are under no illusion that an offer of 1% may lead to a strong reaction from the union and its members and are equally clear that any offer less than 1% would almost certainly result in a strong reaction.
Q: I have seen some kind of “unofficial bulletin” encouraging members to reject the deal saying that not everyone will get the 2%. A straight question then - will the 2% be paid to all “ranks”?
This is totally unfounded. Bluntly, it is mischief-making of the worst kind. The offer is very clear that it is a 2% payment across the board with no variations between “ranks”.
Q: I understand that the second stage payment of 3% is conditional on funding being available. However, I have seen some kind of “unofficial bulletin” encouraging members to reject the deal saying that not everyone will get the 3%. A straight question then - will the 3% be paid to all “ranks”?
Again, this is totally unfounded, and again, it is mischief-making of the worst kind. The offer is very clear that it is a further 3% payment so that too is across the board with no variations between “ranks”.
Q: What happens if the employers don’t deliver on their side of the bargain?
There are certain points at which the employers may fail to deliver.
- They may fail to deliver the 2% immediately as they have promised. If that was to happen the trials would end instantly.
- They may fail to deliver, including not being able to deliver, the 3%. Similarly they may not agree on the scope of activity and the arrangements in respect of training and health and safety etc. The employers are very clear on the union’s position that if this was to occur then the trials would stop.
- By no later than April 2018, in order for a collective agreement to be signed by the union, the employers will have to have offered suitable known arrangements in respect of 2018, 2019 and 2020 (subject to agreement by FBU members). If these arrangements aren’t suitable then no collective agreement will be signed and the trials will end.
- As with any multi-year agreement, if an employer reneges in the years following, then the collective agreement, which will include the undertaking of broadened activities, is null and void.
Q: Are the employers not stringing us along? Are they not simply getting us to do EMR work for an extra 7 months or so with the intention of reneging on the deal in April?
That is possible, but is it likely? If that was the case it would be irrational for the employers to offer the 2% in the knowledge that come April they will continue to pay that 2% not just in 2017 but in every year going forward.
It is not the view of the union’s lead negotiators who have been “in the room” with the employers and their representatives negotiating; listening to and watching the employers.
It’s an assessment which each member needs to make - i.e. is it likely that the employers would pay that 2% to all personnel, in 2017 and every year after, in order to get an extra seven months EMR and other work activity being undertaken by relatively small proportion of the FBU membership?
Whilst there are 38 trials in 36 fire and rescue services, there are very few FRSs where trials are being undertaken on all, or most stations.
Q: Are we not in danger of creating a contractual obligation through custom and practice?
The national agreement under which all the trials are being conducted is very clear - the work is undertaken only for the duration of the period in which the trials have been jointly agreed. This was checked with the employers before the trials and in the run-up to extending the trials. The wording is very specific to protect our right to stop the work if we are dissatisfied.
A contractual obligation will only be created through a collective agreement (subject to agreement by FBU members) - and that collective agreement would only be signed by the union if all the satisfactory arrangements were in place i.e. (i) the second stage payment of 3% for 2017; (ii) arrangements in respect of 2018, 2019, and 2020 (iii) training and health and safety provisions, and (iv) an agreed scope of activities.
Q: What happens if the employers don't pay the 3%?
Under the terms of the offer this must be paid no later than April 2018. If it is not paid then the trials will end and the employers will have to offer something to the union which is acceptable to members if they want to broaden the work that firefighters can be asked to undertake.
Q: What happens if we don't get a good deal for 2018, 2019 and 2020?
This must be negotiated by April 2018 at the latest. If the arrangements aren’t satisfactory then the trials will end and the employers will have to offer something to the union which is acceptable to members if they want to broaden the work that firefighters can be asked to undertake.
Q: On 3 July the Executive Council recommended to members that they should not accept the offer. The offer is largely unchanged. I have read on Twitter that the Executive Council is betraying the members by saying that it is now acceptable. Why is it that the Executive Council (EC) think it is acceptable now?
The EC has not said that 2% or indeed 5% is “acceptable” in exchange for the contractual changes required to broaden the firefighter role. The EC has agreed to recommend “acceptance” of the offer. There is a marked difference between the two things. However, the EC is recommending acceptance of the offer on the basis that:
- We do not believe that the offer will be improved;
- That the offer means a pay rise above 1% for 2017 for FBU members;
- That the offer provides the opportunity to break the previous cycle of 0% and 1% pay rises for 2018, 2019 and 2020;
- That the offer means that we will know in advance, and by no later than April 2018, whether the arrangements are such that a collective agreement can be signed;
- That accepting the offer provides protections for members and keeps open the option and opportunity for pay rises that members need and deserve;
- That the alternative, i.e. rejection, jeopardises that opportunity.
Q: Why is this not a postal ballot?
The Executive Council considered this option. For a number of reasons, including the need to fully explain the offer, and the impact of either accepting or rejecting the offer, the Executive Council opted to conduct consultation through the structures of the union via face-to-face meetings with members at branch meetings.
Q: I have read on Twitter that we are being “sold out”. What do you have to say about that?
It is a groundless, unfair and misleading comment. The leadership of a trade union can be said to have “sold it members out” if they have done so for personal gain or they act in the capacity of a company union. No official, at national, regional or brigade level, is receiving any benefit, or could receive any benefit by their decision to recommend that the offer should be accepted. No-one in their right mind could genuinely believe that the FBU is a company union. It is mischief-making to suggest that this union is in the business of ‘selling members out’.
Whether as successful as we would like to be or otherwise, the vast majority (in fact, in truth, probably all) members, know that national negotiators, the Executive Council and union officials at all levels work hard to achieve our primary objective - to get the best pay and conditions for members.
In practical terms, that the union has opted to consult members must be the clearest evidence to anyone that they, the union, has not “sold out”. This is not an elitist union.
Q: I have read on Twitter that we are being “sold short”. What do you have to say about that?
Workers can be, and often are, “sold short” by their employers when employers do have the money and/or resources to provide higher pay or improve conditions but choose not to do so.
The leadership of a trade union can be said to have “sold its members short” when it makes an agreement when it knows that the employers can pay more and can be persuaded or forced to pay more, yet the leadership chooses to agree for less terms than those achievable.
The Executive Council recognises that the employers do not have sufficient funds to make a payment at this time above 2%. This is because fire and rescue services do not have sufficient funds and have been starved of funds by decisions that can be sourced back to the Treasury and wider government, as part of its decision not to achieve economic growth through investment, but instead to apply the principles of austerity.
The Executive Council has been clear with governments, employers and to members through its circulars and at Conference, that firefighters are already only moderately-paid and have had the value of their earnings eroded by poor pay settlements, pension and national insurance contribution increases and inflation.
In recommending acceptance of the offer, the Executive Council does not hold the view, nor has taken any decisions such that the shortage of funds given to fire and rescue services should mean that members should have their work-activity broadened, simply in return for 2%.
Instead, it is recommending that the offer is accepted because it allows sufficient time to discover whether additional funding for pay rises in respect of 2017 and the following three years is going to be made available. The Executive Council has done this on the basis that at any time, and in any case no later than April 2018, that if it becomes apparent that no further funding will be made available then the union can bring the trials to an end.
Q: Has the EC made the decision for us?
No. Categorically not. The Executive Council has not, and was never likely to have, agreed any offer on pay without a membership consultation, as is currently taking place. The final package to accept the contractual changes will also be subject to the agreement of FBU members.
Q: Why was 13 September chosen as the end date for the consultation?
The Executive Council recognised that trials would have to continue during the consultation for the offer to remain available.
The Executive Council had to balance two competing factors. The first being to ensure that sufficient time was allowed in which to conduct consultation in line with conference policy, and secondly, that if members chose not to accept the offer, that the trials would not have been extended for too long a period.
The balance between these two factors resulted in the decision to conclude the consultation on 13 September 2017.
Q: Why hasn’t the Union argued that the employers should use their reserves?
Not all fire and rescue services have reserves other than marginal contingency reserves. For many years union negotiators both locally and nationally have argued that money be diverted to front-line expenditure and not placed in reserves. We recognise FRAs must have reasonable contingency reserves but believe that far too much money is being put aside. Moreover, both nationally and locally we have identified often, not always, the money is being put aside for prestige projects.
National negotiators have, on many occasions, raised the use of money held in reserves to fund the pay settlement.
That said, for most, if not all FRAs, the level of reserves is not sufficient to fully fund pay settlements which would be deemed satisfactory.
Q: Why is it that paramedics are receiving big increases in their pay but not firefighters?
Earlier in the year, the Executive Council considered the new pay arrangements and pay spine that had been agreed for paramedics in England and which was due to be reflected in other parts of the UK.
Members will have seen these arrangements have now been agreed in Scotland and Wales by the respective governments.
The pay increases and pay arrangements for paramedics is well deserved by them. The details of those arrangements are significant and there are similarities but also differences between the elements that apply in the two sets of negotiations. There are a number of important factors which are briefly described here:
- There are problems in recruitment and retention in ambulance services across the UK;
- The pay and conditions settlement for paramedics is the product of approximately six years of negotiation;
- The pay increases are not automatic, and are dependent upon engagement with and progression within a professional qualifications framework up to degree level
- Health service budgets have been protected to a greater degree than in fire and rescue services.
The Executive Council in its strategic discussions in respect of increasing pay within the fire and rescue service, has identified that there are factors that have been in play in respect of the negotiations paramedics have undergone, which can inform and perhaps shape the negotiations for the fire sector.
This employers’ offer is far from being the end of fire pay negotiations.
Q: MPs gave themselves 11% why should we accept 5% for doing more work?
All members of the union, from the general secretary to the newest recruits have been appalled by the double standard applied by the government and MPs when it comes to their pay settlements and for workers (a) in the front line in the public sector, including firefighters, and (b) in the private sector where there has been an explosion in the number of zero hours contracts and the like.
On as many occasions as possible, union reps nationally and locally have made strong pointed references to these double standards
The Executive Council are not apologists for the government and Parliament and their hypocrisy. The question before us in this consultation is one about our pay. In the lobbying for the funding required for the pay increases for stage 2 and in future years (upon which the collective agreement for broadening the work depends) the union will highlight this matter.
Q: My Chief and FRA chair are saying that any pay award over 1% for this financial year will mean they have to make further efficiency savings or cuts - is that the case?
It is never possible to be entirely sure. However, in the years when firefighters received 0% and 1%, those same employers made “efficiency savings” i.e. made cuts. In other words poor pay rises does not mean no job cuts.
If we were to only claim and/or accept a pay rise which the employer pleaded they could afford, then why make a pay claim in the first place?
Q: Where can I find national communications to members on the offer for consideration during this consultation?
These can be found at: