TUC pledges to defend FBU against “political attack” from government

Andrew Kersley

The TUC has pledged to defend the collective bargaining rights of fire and rescue service workers against a “political attack” from the government that would see their union excluded from the pay review process.

In a motion passed at the TUC Congress 2020 on Monday, the body pledged to oppose a pay review body being created and argued that it would “damage industrial relations and disrupt the UK fire and rescue service”.

A report from the chief fire inspector in England in January recommended that a new body be imposed on the fire service that would effectively circumvent the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in all wage negotiations.

The FBU, who tabled the motion, said that collective bargaining allows firefighters to offer invaluable support to the NHS during the pandemic, including by driving ambulances and assembling personal protective equipment.

General secretary Matt Wrack said: “This government vilified teachers for demanding safe workplaces, threatened transport workers for demanding safe trains, and now they want to stop firefighters standing up for themselves too.

“Collective bargaining delivered the fire and rescue service’s response to the pandemic and has seen firefighters take unprecedented steps to aid the NHS and care sector, all while protecting their communities from fire and other emergencies.

“But, thanks to collective bargaining, it’s been done safely, avoiding the tragic firefighter Covid-19 deaths seen in other countries. Each Tory attack on workers leads to lower wages and more dangerous workplaces.”

Currently, the FBU negotiates with employers on behalf of all firefighters and control staff at the National Joint Council (NJC) and any agreements reached between the two parties are published in the fire service’s ‘grey book’.

The proposed government changes would see the current system replaced with a new pay review body that would negotiate and advise on wages without consulting the union.

The new TUC motion pledged to support the FBU’s collective bargaining rights and suggested there was “no basis” for the new process being proposed by Westminster.

Wrack concluded: “Today, the whole union movement is sending a message to the government; collective bargaining works – and we’ll stand together against any attempt to undermine it.”

Speaking at the conference on Monday, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the government to “stand by working families” and introduce a targeted extension to the furlough scheme.

Below is the full text of the motion.

Congress notes the long-standing collective bargaining arrangements within the UK fire and rescue service, embodied in the National Joint Council (NJC) and the grey book.

Congress notes the role of the NJC and the grey book in determining firefighters’ pay and conditions, as well as resolving a wide range of disputes.

Congress commends the NJC for its rapid response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including its key role in the tripartite agreement between the FBU, fire employers and the chief fire officers’ body, the NFCC, to enable firefighters to assist the NHS.

Congress notes the evidence from the first round of fire inspection reports in England in 2018–19, which included numerous positive comments about the role of union reps in improving matters such as equalities, health and safety, grievance and discipline.

Congress condemns the political attack on the NJC and grey book made by the chief fire inspector in England, Tom Winsor, in January 2020. In particular, his call for a pay review body to replace these existing arrangements. Congress believes there is no basis for the chief inspector’s attack on collective bargaining and his attacks on the FBU.

Congress believes that any moves by the Westminster government to break up the NJC and the Grey Book would damage industrial relations and disrupt the UK fire and rescue service.

Congress supports the FBU’s campaign to maintain collective bargaining across the UK fire and rescue service.

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