The union’s conference was recalled in Blackpool on 21 March to discuss the state of discussions with our employers at the National Joint Council (NJC).
These discussions, agreed by our conference over the past few years, are about the broadened role of our service and the pay and conditions which should accompany this wider role.
In some areas, the work of firefighters has been a development of existing roles (for example, water rescue and specialist line rescue).
In other areas, the role has expanded and has sometimes drifted from what has been agreed (for example in some of the work carried out in some services during home visits).
Elsewhere it is broadly accepted that there are activities which are not currently agreed and not currently contractual.
The most obvious areas in this category are marauding terrorist firearms attack (MTFA) work and emergency medical response (EMR).
Our discussions with employers have aimed at clarifying what is and is not agreed activity, and the appropriate standards and training in areas which are potential new activities.
One aim of the union in these discussions has been to stop the drift towards non-agreed work that is prevalent in many fire and rescue services.
Chief fire officers in many parts of the country are regularly introducing new initiatives which push the boundaries of what can reasonably be expected of FBU members.
We have never been generally opposed to taking on new work. But it should always be done with agreement, with appropriate standards, procedures, training – and, of course, pay.
PAY IS CENTRAL
Both MTFA and EMR work provide the clearest examples of activity which is not within current role maps and is not contractual.
They are also the most difficult areas of discussion with our employers and with governments across the UK.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the employers and ministers want these things done on the cheap. They want limited discussion on standards and they will try everything to avoid paying FBU members if they can.
A recent report from the University of Hertfordshire highlights some of the potential benefits of EMR work. It also highlights many operational, training and related problems. In our discussions with employers, we have also highlighted the problem of pay and it has been acknowledged from the start that the issue of pay and conditions is a fundamental one for the FBU.
These matters were all debated at our conference on 21 March. We heard some excellent examples of EMR work and about some really good practice in some fire services.
We also heard the opposite: reports of major failings in terms of safety, training and procedure.
While some employers had acted quickly to address our members’ concerns, we heard too many cases where employers had completely failed to deal adequately with the many issues raised by those on the frontline.
Our conference also discussed the issue of pay. As we set out elsewhere in this magazine, firefighters’ pay has been stagnating for far too long. This is a direct result of government policy, but that does not resolve the question. The union has commissioned research into the work our members do, including some of the new trial areas such as EMR.
This research will be used to form the basis of claims to our employers for pay this year – and beyond.
We do not accept the government’s pay freeze. Nor do we accept that additional work – with significant additional responsibilities – should be taken on without the issue of pay being resolved.
This view was put to the employers very clearly on the day following our recall conference.
We currently await their response, but they are aware that, unless they start to address the issue of falling real wages, the joint work through the NJC workstreams is likely to come to an end.