“ Address: Bradley House, 68 Coombe Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT2 7AE. Tel +44 (0) 208 541 1765. Main trades and industries: local authority fire brigades. „
Is this the right category? Do categories even matter any more? Does anyone care? is there anybody out there? Oh well, lets crack on. Every night for the past week or so the new has been filled with reports on the impending firefighters strike, each report annoys me more and more with the bickering and pieces on how the country is going to tackle the problem. At work in-between playing on the Internet, bitching about our boss and the occasional bit of work, we also have some rather heated topical debate. Recently our debates have been on the demands of the nation's firefighters. Now I'm big liberal lefty and I'm happy to admit it and the person (we'll call her Kay) I do most of my arguing with is a natural conservative and is also happy to admit it. You can imagine we have fun. So, should the fire service be asking for a 40% pay rise? 'No!' says Kay, 'its far too much money, that's an outrageous demand.' 'I don't think so' I reply 'I think it's far more outrageous that they are underpaid by 40%' 'It doesn't work like that' argues Kay 'Being a fireman is a vocation, you go into the job knowing that you wont be paid very much and you shouldn't whine about it later on' 'Rubbish!' I dismiss her 'For one, there's no such thing as a vocation in modern society and second, why should people be penalised for wanting to help people?' 'They're not penalised' 'They are' I say 'by paying low wages people who do a job that's for the public good and they cant simply leave and go to another company you are penalising them, simply treading all over them' 'That's ridiculous, they're not being trodden on, besides they earn plenty' What, £22000? You earn more than that, do you think you add more value to the country? Are you say
ing you're worth more, would you be happy with that plus 3% p.a for the rest of your career? No, but I'm different. Why? Because I'm a professional, I've put in years of training and have worked hard to get where I am. So are they and you have to be very highly trained. Yes but they spend most of their shift sitting around anyway. Oh yes, they also spend time training, cleaning, maintaining equipment and keeping in shape. When they're not doing that they're going into burning buildings to stop people dying. Would you do that? No, but that's their job. That's what they signed up for. Yes, and we should pay them properly for it. Well it would be nice if the country could afford it but they cant. Would you be prepared to pay more tax for their pay rise? Yes. Oh, right, well I wouldn't. Well it'll only work out to a little bit each month. That's not the point. What is? They shouldn't be going on strike, it a danger to the public. I agree What! I thought I'd never hear you say that. Well I do, but what can they do. They know there's no other way. Well they should give in, you can't hold a country to ransom. It put the public in danger and that's not right. Yes I know, but why doesn't the government give in, the threat of a strike should have made them realise that they can't cope without the fire service and that they are worth the money the want. But they can't afford it. Hmmm, they don't seem to worry too much about that when they award themselves pay rises. But there aren't as many of them, its not comparable. I suppose, but I still think it's a bit hypocritical of them. Well what do you suggest them clever clogs. I dunno, maybe a deal to incr
ease pay over the next few years, something like 10% pa for four years. That would be more sensible and easier to budget. Hmm, I don't think they'll go for it. I don't think they'll think of it. Ha, probably, I don't think they should be on so much money anyway. Really? Yeah. Like a said, it's a vocation. Well, when your house is on fire and a fire fighter goes into you smoke filled house and pulls your daughter from certain death I hope you're willing to say to his face that you don't think he's worth the same amount of money you get for shuffling papers all day. You're just being silly now. So, who do you think won the argument? (Ignore that ratings, they're crap)
There are times in life that I would like a huge pay rise. I work my tripe out for my company and customers. I produce more sales from fewer staff year in year out, often receiving a rise less than inflation. Time for me to get an extra 40% in my pay packet? Perhaps not. My story is repeated across British industry. We all seem to be giving more for the same. But with inflation low and unemployment low, perhaps things are as good as they get already. So, what about the firemen? Why are they different? Well, for one, they are prepared to risk their lives in the line of duty. And unlike other professions, they will almost certainly have to at some point! Certainly, a point to take in to account when thinking about how much Mr Fireman should earn. So, how much do they earn? Well, a typical fire fighter with five years service earns around £21,000 a year for a 48-hour week. Holidays are around 21 days and the pension scheme is a valuable final salary scheme, although a hefty 11% of salary is deducted to pay for this. The pension scheme is also index linked, unlike most private sector schemes. The working week will typically include fire fighting (5 hours) combined with training, eating, sleeping on shift (fully uniformed, calm down ladies) and maintaining equipment. Given the shift pattern, many supplement their income with part time work too. So, the average fireman earns just short of average salary, has a decent (if expensive) pension scheme, and spends much of his paid time doing things other than fighting blazes. So, do they deserve a 40% pay rise? Well, based on the economics of recruitment and retention, the answer should be no. While there are one or two hotspots, most fire stations are fully manned with little evidence of people leaving the service on economic grounds. Indeed, if large amounts of money are to be found for pay in the public services, nurses and GPs are the on
es with the strongest claims! But 700 of these people suffer injuries on the job each year saving our lives and protecting our property. They educate our children in schools to have sensible attitudes to fire. They inspect our workplaces to ensure we can escape quickly and easily should the worst happen. They are a valuable commodity for our civilised society. And a discussion on the value of fire fighting cannot avoid reference to the demise of the World Trade Centre towers. What do I think? Well, the union leaders need to get off their high horses and enter the real world. 40% is a truly ridiculous demand. And with firemen already telling us that strikes will lead to deaths, strike action is unacceptable. We live in a nation where inflation is 2%. I can see a case for moving the pay of a typical fireman with five years service and appropriate qualifications to national average wage (currently around £24,000) within a reasonable period. This would probably need a 5% rise for the next 5 years to achieve, assuming inflation continues at current rates. Pay rates on entry to the service and for those in senior positions are already competitive when compared to other public sector posts. In return, firemen should join the police in having a no strike contract. They are an essential service. As a nation, we should reward them fairly. As employees, they should enter the service knowing that they do not have a right to strike. They should also have an assurance that every five years the way their pay is calculated and compared to other services will also be reviewed. The days of unions bringing the nation to its knees are long gone. This union needs to get back to the real world of low inflation and low turnover of staff in their industry.