Voices: Our duty as firefighters is to save lives – that’s why we’re voting to strike

Firefighters and control staff are balloting for strike action. This is why.

Strike action is always a last resort, but we are left with no other option. Many firefighters and emergency fire control staff are struggling to pay their bills. Some are having to go to foodbanks to feed their families. It is an utterly disgraceful state of affairs. We can’t go on like this.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union worked through the pandemic, continuing to attend their workplaces. Doing that meant taking on additional personal risk to try and help others. Firefighters also took on extra duties to try and aide the Covid response. That included delivering food to the vulnerable and moving the deceased. They were clapped as key workers by the prime minister and others.

A below-inflation pay rise – a real-terms pay cut – would be a disgusting way to thank them. It would leave more firefighters and control staff facing real struggles. Yet that is what firefighters and control staff have been offered. The pay offer of 5 per cent is well below current inflation. Firefighters and control staff deserve better than this for the job they do.

We have tried everything. We have repeatedly contacted employers and government figures. Last week we wrote to various parties to tell them that we would be forced to open a strike ballot if a decent pay offer was not received. It has not been.

So, the ball is still in the employers’ and governments’ court. It always has been. They are the ones responsible for staffing our fire and rescue services and setting levels of pay. The onus is on them to provide a decent level of pay. Firefighters and control staff are well within their rights to take action if it is not enough. The responsibility for running the fire service properly lies with employers and the government.

We aren’t the only ones taking action at the moment. What is happening to firefighters and control staff is not isolated. There is a widespread attempt to make public sector workers pay for high inflation. But it is clear that wages have not caused rising prices. But public sector workers are now being told yet again to tighten their belts.

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Much current inflation is driven by the profit-seeking of large corporations who have done very well over the last few years. These companies are making huge amounts of money. Shell is making record profits this year, £26 billion to the start of November. In August it was reported that UK energy companies could see £170 billion in excess profits over the next two years. There clearly is cash for some in our economy.

It is absolutely appalling that this cash flows into the balance sheets of corporations or the pockets of the richest in society, whilst people who go to work to save lives struggle to make ends meet. It is sickening that record profits are being made in the same sector that is hiking the bills of ordinary working people.

As we do everything we can to secure decent living standards the support and understanding of the public is vital. Nobody wants to be in this position. Nobody wants to take strike action. But the responsibility for paying staff enough and properly resourcing the fire service lies with government and fire service employers. Firefighters and emergency fire control staff are being forced into this – to protect themselves and their families.

Matt Wrack is the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union