HR divided over Prescott’s plan to enforce settlement on firefighters

Fire service HR professionals are split over the Government’s plan to
enforce a pay settlement on the striking firefighters.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott threatened to introduce
legislation giving the Government the power to set firefighters’ pay and working

The move, which could see Prescott take over responsibility for the service
next month, is an attempt to force Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members to accept
the Government pay offer of an 11 per cent pay rise over three years linked to

Anne Smith, HR manager at Warwickshire Fire and Rescue, slammed the
Government threat, believing it will have a damaging effect on industrial
relations in the service.

Smith believes that forcing change on firefighters without a negotiated settlement
will destroy staff morale and union relations.

"It confirms staff perceptions of government and management and will
ruin all the good work we have done," she said. "The Government will
solve its problem, but will cause managers more difficulties."

However, Carol McCletchie, director of HR at Cleveland Fire Service, said
reform is long overdue and backs the move, claiming it will end the dispute.

"It shows a determination to take a lead in ending the deadlock,"
McCletchie said. "Industrial strife will damage the good name of the
service – the proposal should focus minds on reinstating meaningful

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU, claimed Prescott’s
announcement would set back industrial relations in the UK.

"The Government has blocked two pay offers from our employers. Our
employers refused to meet at Acas last week. This goes to the heart of free
trade unionism and raises major issues of principle, including the ability to
negotiate with our employer."

By Paul Nelson

Acas blames poor communication for unresolved strikes

The chief executive of arbitration
body Acas has blamed poor communication by fire service managers for the
ongoing strike action over pay and modernisation.

John Taylor believes that the lack of effective communication
between senior management and the unions has fuelled the dispute which has led
to months of strikes by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), including two 48-hour
strikes last week.

Speaking at the AnUMan conference in London last week, Taylor said
that improved communication was key to solving the dispute as both parties
agree firefighters deserve more money and that the working practices need

He said: "We should be talking about the development of
workforce strategy and not the annual pay round as a cost.

"Managers [at the Fire Service] must consult and listen,
there must be consultation mechanisms in place."

Taylor said that industrial relations must move away from the
confrontational approaches of the 1970s and 80s.

He warned public sector employers and unions that high public
expectation of their services would demand that they work together in

The FBU originally demanded a 40 per cent wage increase, taking
the basic starter wage to £30,000 a year. But did agree a 16 per cent deal with
employers, which was then blocked by the Government. The employers – and the
Government – claim an inflation-busting pay rise can only be funded by
radically overhauling the service’s working practices.

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