UK firefighter dispute 2002–2003

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The 2002-2003 UK firefighter dispute began when the UK firefighters union, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), voted to take strike action in an attempt to secure a better salary. The FBU demanded a 39 percent increase in pay, which would have brought the average firefighter's wage (at the time) to around £30,000, it balloted its members for a strike in late 2002, the industrial action began in November. It was the first nationwide firefighters' strike in the UK since the 1970s.[1]

The strike came as part of a wave of industrial action in Britain, which began with the council workers' strike in July of the same year, and continued with other events. For example, 95% of the UK's postal workers voted for industrial action.[2]


Strike periods

The first few weeks of the planned action were postponed while negotiation took place. The first period, a two day strike, began at 18:00 hrs GMT, on Wednesday 13 November and ended at 18:00 on Friday 15 November. In the event that reconciliation could not be brokered, further industrial action was planned.[3]

The armed forces provided emergency cover during the strike, using vintage Green Goddess engines, and modern red fire appliances as part of Operation Fresco. The armed forces also fielded small breathing apparatus rescue teams (BART) and rescue equipment support teams (REST) headed by professional firefighters of the RAF and staffed by specially trained members of all three services.[4]

Each side placed the responsibility entirely with the other; the FBU said that their employers' failure to meet their demands was the cause of the strike. Many feared that lives would be lost in fires because of a lack of a prompt response by emergency services. There were numerous examples of striking firefighters responding to emergency calls from the picket line and several rescues were made in this way, however there were also many instances where the armed forces were refused help or equipment by the FBU despite the possible risk to life.[citation needed]


The first few weeks of the planned action were postponed while negotiation took place. The FBU rejected an offer that would amount to 11 percent over two years from a review body headed by Sir George Bain, and were unwilling to accept reforms to their working conditions. The FBU was widely criticised for its initial demand for a 40 percent pay-rise for both firefighters and support workers; indeed, it refused to abandon this demand despite mounting public disquiet concerning the FBU's stance.[citation needed]

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