UK firefighters strike for first time in 20 years

(Bloomberg) — UK firefighters have voted to strike over wages and conditions, adding to a wave of industrial unrest that has engulfed Britain’s workforce.

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Around 88 per cent of the 30,000 firefighters represented by the Fire Brigades Union in England, Wales and Scotland voted to go on strike, according to a statement released by the FBU on Monday. In Northern Ireland 94% of members voted for strikes.

If the strikes go ahead, it would be the first nationwide strike by firefighters in two decades, piling further pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration, which is already grappling with industrial action by nurses, ambulance staff, teachers and civil servants. A round of government talks with teachers’ unions broke down without resolution on Monday, leaving teachers poised to go on strike on Wednesday.

“This strike action will be disappointing and worrying for the public,” Sunak’s spokesman Max Blain told reporters on Monday, referring to the firefighters’ vote. He also described the planned teachers’ strike as “very disappointing” and said the government wants schools to remain open “where possible”.

Teachers’ unions say the 5% pay rise offered to most teachers can’t keep pace with inflation above 10%, while they say a 20% cut in real terms over the past decade led to a staff exodus. Firefighters are also asking for a bigger pay rise than the 5% offered in October, which represents a cut in real terms.

“Credible offer”

“Firefighters have been among Britain’s Covid heroes keeping frontline services running during the pandemic,” FBU Secretary-General Matt Wrack said in a statement. “The prime minister has grossly misjudged the public mood by imposing wage cuts on key workers.”

A meeting with the employers is scheduled for February 8, and the union has said there will be no strikes until after that meeting. The union added that the government and employers could avoid strikes by making “a credible offer”.

Unions have begun to coordinate their union action more in an effort to get the government to negotiate higher pay for the current fiscal year. As many as 100,000 civil servants go on strike on February 1 along with teachers, university staff and train drivers. In the meantime. Ambulance workers, 999 call handlers and nurses are set to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on pickets for the first time on Feb. 6 in an escalation of their campaign against below-inflation hikes.

–With assistance from Emily Ashton.

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