6 September 2013
TO: ALL MEMBERS
IMPORTANT INFORMATION â€“ STRIKE BALLOT RESULT AND DISCUSSIONS REGARDING PENSIONS
Following the very significant result in our strike ballot last week, members will have been closely following developments. It is recognised that members will want to know the latest position as it happens and we are aware it can be extremely frustrating when there appears to be a delay before the latest information is circulated. Members are asked to also recognise that events can develop quickly in these situations and that there are areas that may need to be clarified before any developments can be accurately reported.
The Executive Council is clear that the information we circulate must be accurate but equally must not in any way compromise the campaign or the negotiations on behalf of members. It is therefore agreed that Executive Council members would not circulate separate briefings or circulars but would await a Head Office circular following our most recent meeting.
Throughout our campaign, FBU members have been clear to us that they would expect us to try to resolve the dispute and to see if any progress could be made in the event of a Yes vote in the strike ballot. This is the approach the Executive Council has adopted. In line with this, immediately following the ballot result, letters were written to Ministers to identify if meetings could be set up to explore whether progress could be made.
Complication to our Campaign: Devolution and Firefightersâ€™ Pensions
Fire policy is a devolved matter in the UK. This means that it is dealt with by four different Ministers and departments; separately for England, for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for Wales. We have previously explained, for example, that the legislative process on public sector pensions in Northern Ireland is considerably behind that in the rest of the UK and therefore Northern Ireland members have not currently been balloted.
Devolution also means that there is a possibility that different arrangements might be set in the different parts of the UK â€“ although that has never been the preferred option of the FBU.
The devolved arrangements also significantly complicate matters when the negotiations are taking place. In some cases it is not entirely clear to what degree Ministers outside of Westminster have the legal authority or the financial independence to suggest or agree different arrangements. For the FBU it means negotiations must usually be replicated four times. As you will appreciate, this causes some considerable delays. You will also appreciate that it might be necessary to ensure that negotiations or talks in one part of the UK are kept confidential in relation to discussions elsewhere.
It is important to note that there has always been the possibility that our campaign might result in different approaches or even different results in different parts of the UK. Despite this our policy has been to secure, as far as possible, the same or similar arrangements in all parts of the UK.
Dialogue with Ministers and Meetings Arranged
On the day of our ballot result we were contacted by the Scottish Government making some suggestions about a possible way forward. The Executive Council agreed that it was vital to explore this and gain clarification on several points. Since then, there have been meetings with the Scottish Government and other discussions in relation to these suggestions. To-date these discussions are not concluded. As soon as we are able to, we shall issue details of any proposals.
Following our letter to the Welsh Fire Minister we were invited to a meeting with the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, and his team. This meeting took place on Wednesday 4 September and was the first opportunity we have had to put our case directly to the leader of the Welsh Government. We set out our case and clearly emphasised the urgency of the matter in view of our strike ballot result. This was understood and we received an assurance that it would be considered in detail. As yet we have not received any further response but once again members can be assured they will get an update as soon as possible.
We have also had a further discussion with the CLG Fire Minister where we set out our position in the aftermath of our ballot and again explained the urgency of the situation.
In the context of the three meetings set out above, the Executive Council has not yet set strike dates. We have been clear throughout our campaign that our campaign is a political one as well as an industrial one. In order to make progress we require politicians to alter current policy. Therefore, discussions with politicians are inevitably an essential part of the process and will be part of any resolution. In this regard, the continued lobbying of politicians by members is an essential aspect of the campaign. Our recent circulars set out how members can be part of this aspect of campaigning. It is a role everyone can play. Further information is available through the unionâ€™s website.
This part of the campaign is governed by legal timescales and we are continuing to use every opportunity to resolve the issues using all routes available to us. Members should prepare themselves for the call for strike action but should also be aware that we are still working very hard to get a negotiated settlement to this dispute or to attain improvements in the position for you to consider.
The Executive Council is scheduled to meet regularly in order to assess any progress and to consider the need to call strike action. Members are encouraged to ensure they keep up-to-date with information provided by circular â€“ and most importantly by your local FBU officials through Branch and Brigade meetings.